Virginia Digital Sports Betting Gets Approval, Launch Expected Early 2021

  • The 90-day window for application approval could see sportsbooks go live in mid-January
  • Regulations ban betting on the Olympic Games and college sports involving Virginia teams
  • The Virginia Lottery modified contentious real-time data, self-exclusion, and ad approval rules
  • FanDuel and DraftKings sunk $750k into a TV ad ahead of Maryland’s sports betting ballot
Virginia Is For Lovers sign
The Virginia Lottery Board has approved the state’s digital sports betting regulations, which means sportsbooks can apply for licenses starting October 15. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Application window opens mid-October

The Virginia Lottery Board approved on Tuesday the state’s digital sports betting regulations, with the launch of legal wagering anticipated for early 2021.

The Lottery will field license applications from sports betting operators October 15-31. State rules stipulate a 90-day window for approving or denying an application, which means the Old Dominion’s first sportsbook could be live by mid-January at the earliest.

The new bill bans betting on youth sports and college sports involving Virginia teams. The rule against betting on sports featuring athletes under the age of 18 threw a spanner in the works regarding Virginians betting on the Olympic Games.

Because a lot of Olympic events may include minors, we were concerned”

“Because a lot of Olympic events may include minors, we were concerned about allowing betting on such events,” explained Gina Smith, the Lottery’s deputy director for gaming compliance. Smith did, however, suggest that the legislature could tweak the law to permit Olympics betting ahead of the 2021 Games in Tokyo.

The Virginia Mercury highlighted the Games ban in a tweet:

While these new state regulations approve digital sports betting only, a positive result on the November 3 ballot could conceivably see sportsbooks operating in four proposed retail casinos.

Concessions made

Gambling operators DraftKings, FanDuel, and Penn National Gaming pushed back on many aspects of the Lottery’s initial ruling, which was released for public review in August.

Speaking of the deadline challenges “within an aggressive timeline,” Lottery executive director Kevin Hall said the legislation “consumed a lot of bandwidth over the summer.”

Within Tuesday’s final draft, several modifications were made in response to the above mentioned sportsbooks. In what should appease main objectors DraftKings and FanDuel, the revised real-time rule only needs apps to display the sum wagered plus the odds “at which the wager is offered.”

like an individual walking into a casino to ban themselves from the casino

The Virginia legislature also nixed a rule permitting bettors to put themselves on a self-exclusion list via the apps. Operators had questioned the wisdom of encouraging people with gambling issues to sign into a betting app to ban themselves. Or, as William Hill’s partner Caesars Entertainment put it, it would have been like an individual walking into a casino to ban themselves from the casino.

Penn National will be placated by the Lottery softening its stance on advertising. Previously, operators were required to obtain Lottery approval in advance for any advertising materials, but now approval is only necessary upon specific request.

“To me it seems like we’ve struck a good balance between regulating and allowing the business to operate, which is not easy,” said Lottery board chairman Ferhan Hamid.

Let the process begin

Virginia will allow a minimum of four and a maximum of 12 sports wagering licensees. Applicants will be vetted on how much betting and tax revenue they estimate bringing in and how many new jobs can be expected. Candidates also need to demonstrate “serious, good faith efforts to solicit and interview a reasonable number of investors that are minority individuals.”

Preferred consideration will be given to license applicants who have partnered with “a major league team headquartered or competing extensively in Virginia.” These requirements will favor the big hitters, in particular William Hill, who is partnered with Virginia-headquartered NHL team, the Washington Capitals.

Meanwhile, just across the Potomac Bridge, DraftKings and FanDuel have sunk $750,000 into a television commercial – hoping to influence the legalizing of sports betting in Maryland – which is viewable on YouTube:

The campaign comes from advocacy group Vote Yes on Question 2, which is founded and chaired by current WNBA basketball star Marissa Coleman. Marylanders will go to the ballot to vote on Question 2, a referendum that would legalize sports betting in Maryland.

In a report by Fox5 in Washington, DC, Coleman said that “about $2.8bn is illegally betted in Maryland on sports, so if we found a way to regulate that and put some consumer protection in there it’s a great way to be able to tax and it helps our state.”