Legislators File Bills To Get Virginia In On Sports Betting Action

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Virginia is for Gamblers? The state may have to change its iconic Virginia is for Lovers advertising campaign if one of two proposed sports betting bills passes muster in the state Legislature next year.

Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), pre-filed legislation to repeal prohibitions on a state online lottery and sports betting.

Specifically, his legislation would legalize sports betting -- both retail and online; put the state lottery in charge of regulating the betting, remove prohibitions on an online lottery, and clarify that daily fantasy sports is not legal gambling for all under the sports betting definition.

However, the bill only allows online sports betting – not in-person or brick and mortar wagering. It does not mention retail locations or authorize betting in the state’s bingo parlors or off-track betting facilities.

One caveat: The Sickles bill would not allow betting on college sports, which might frustrate fans of the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and others.

“I’m probably saving them money in the long run,” he told The Richmond Times Dispatch.

His bill, seeking a 15 percent tax on gross gaming revenue, is not to be a cash grab for state coffers. The Sickles bill is a consumer protection measure that cites money generated are designated for operations (2.5%), problem gambling treatment (2.5%), and research funding (95%).

Sickle proposes the projected $41 million in tax revenue annually that go toward funding major research projects at Virginia’s universities.

A second piece of legislation regarding legal sports betting also was introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D) that would have a portion of proceeds going to reduce community college tuition fees.

Under his “Virginia Sports Gambling Tuition Reduction Act,” voters would need to weigh-in at the polls before any gaming licenses were issued.

“(This proposed bill) recognizes the reality that sports gambling is pretty much a reality,” Petersen told the Virginia Mercury newspaper. “We’ve already done daily fantasy and that’s widespread. This is just sort of taking it to the next level where a number of states are already going.”

And where the Sickles’ bill only allows online wagering, Petersen wants more.

“I’m not interested in people sitting in their parents’ basement with their pajamas on betting on a ‘Monday Night Football’ game,” Petersen told the Virginia Mercury. “I want this to be part of a social entertainment package where people get out and spend money.”

The state has long opposed legal wagering, being one of 10 states that doesn’t allow legalized gambling of any kind. In the mid-90s, the Legislature rejected riverboat casinos; and in 2014, internet game cafes were prohibited.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in May overturned the sports betting ban, six states have implemented sports betting. The seventh, Rhode Island, hoped to have wagering up and running at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln by Thanksgiving weekend but has since announced it will launch its sportsbook at 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26.

Virginia is buffeted on most sides by states that already have approved and have active betting -- Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

The potential loss of revenues as people cross state lines to place a wager possibly prompted the legislators’ change of mind.

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