Virginia is for lovers… of straight bets or 8-team multi-sport parlays. In March of 2020, the Virginia General Assembly and Senate passed SB 384 and HB 896 to bring legal sports betting to the state. A few weeks later, Gov. Ralph Northam sent amended versions of the bills back to lawmakers, who approved them in a reconvened session on April 22, 2020, which officially legalized sports betting in Virginia.
After that, the rules and regulations were posted in the Virginia Register and the lottery then opened its application window, receiving 25 sportsbook operator applications during the two-week span, Oct. 15-31, 2020.
Just a few months later we saw FanDuel online sportsbook start taking bets on Jan. 21, 2021. This historic launch was a first for legalized online gambling in the state, and was quickly followed with more operators going live in the Commonwealth: DraftKings launched on Sunday Jan. 24, then BetMGM and BetRivers on Wednesday, Jan. 27. More have since joined the action.
While the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee had always been aiming for an early 2021 launch of mobile/online sports betting, retail sports betting and casinos won’t be ready for some time. For physical sportsbooks, Spring 2022 remains a loose target. Voters approved brick-and-mortar casinos on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot.
Best legal VA online sportsbooks
Online and mobile sportsbook apps in Virginia
So with several big names in the online sportsbook market now live, you might be wondering which other online and mobile sportsbooks might be coming to Virginia? The short answer is “quite possibly most of ‘em,” based on the fact up to 17 sportsbooks are allowed in the state, and even New Jersey – which was first to market and offers a good business environment for sportsbook operators – has “only” about 18 online sportsbooks currently operating under a law that would allow up to 42.
Virginia’s licensing fees and tax rate (15% on gross gaming revenue) are in the “medium” range, comparing with rates nationwide, and the population is on the high end (12th overall at roughly 8.5 million), so it is a very desirable market to enter.
How many more online sportsbooks in VA?
There are only a handful of online sportsbooks active at the moment but there could be up to 17 total mobile platforms, according to the Lottery — some stand alone and some tethered to casinos — in Virginia when all is said and done. The text of the law reads that the state will have a minimum of four mobile books and a maximum of 12. But those numbers aren’t as firm as they appear. By the Lottery’s count, Virginia will have a minimum of 11 online/mobile apps (neither the five proposed casinos nor the two current pro teams with footholds in Virginia count to the minimum) and up to 14 (the two pro teams don’t count against the cap).
Why? According to the text in the law and the FAQs section on the Virginia Lottery’s new sports betting site, licenses awarded to pro teams/venues or casinos would NOT count toward the minimum, and licenses awarded to pro teams/venues would NOT count toward the maximum.
Translation? Under any circumstance, there will be at least four stand-alone mobile platforms in addition to those tethered to casinos operating in the state, or to the Washington Football Team and DC United. Both teams have official facilities in the state making them eligible. But there could be as many as 14 mobile licenses (the stated maximum of 12 plus two pro teams/venues) in Virginia, which would create the open, competitive marketplace that benefits bettors. In addition, WynnBet has partnered with two auto raceways, which it views as giving it market access.
So while we can’t say with certainty that the following sportsbooks will apply for and gain VA sports betting licenses, many of them will. Here’s a partial list of who else could join:
Voters in the cities of Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Richmond all approved retail casinos on Nov. 3. There is a possibility of a fifth casino in Richmond, however, that city is on a different timeline, and likely won’t put the question of whether or not to allow a casino to voters until 2021.
Several cities have already selected partners and begun planning. Here’s a look at the deals so far:
- The city of Bristol has partnered with coal industrialist, Jim McGlothlin who wants to open the Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino with Hard Rock as an equity partner;
- The city of Danville has selected Caesars Entertainment as its gaming partner with plans to build a conference center, live-entertainment venue and casino with a sportsbook;
- The city of Norfolk has agreed to sell land to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which has plans to build a casino resort in near Harbor Park.
- The tribe also purchased land in the city of Richmond in August 2020, and is among multiple entities interested in building a casino there. The city of Richmond has yet to select a partner, and voters there will have the opportunity to approve a casino project via referendum in November 2022.
- The Portsmouth City Council already voted to allow Chicago-based gambling company Rush Street Gaming LLC to build a 50-acre resort and casino near the city’s Tidewater Community College camps.
“I promise you we will build something you’ll be proud of,” said Rush Street Gaming chairman and co-founder Neil Bluhm, a real estate billionaire whose firm operates casinos in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, and Colorado. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that you’ve selected us to develop a terrific entertainment district facility.”
Some of the sportsbook ‘players’
Bluhm’s Rush Street has brought the BetRivers online sportsbook to Virginia, or at least the Rush Street Interactive software that powers BetRivers.
Another group that has found its way into Virginia is MGM Resorts International. Before landing in Virginia, MGM already had a presence in neighboring Maryland, with a large retail casino just across the Wilson Bridge from Alexandria. MGM National Harbor gets an estimated 30% of its revenue from VA residents, so it only makes sense to lock up that existing revenue plus expand state wide.
And let’s not forget the NFL’s Washington Football Team, which is actively shopping for a new home once its lease for FedEx Field in Landover, Md. ends in 2027. The team already has headquarters in Virginia, which made it eligible for a sports betting license, which lead to a partnership with FanDuel. FanDuel was the first online sportsbook to go live on January 21, 2021.
Virginia is now in the running to host the NFL stadium, because the law permits Virginia-based professional stadiums or major professional teams with headquarters in Virginia to obtain licensure to run brick-and-mortar and online sportsbooks. Washington owner Dan Snyder has made it clear that’s what he wants. The team currently plays at FedEx Field, and it’s possible that Maryland pro teams will be able to host sports betting, as well. Voters there legalized sports betting on Nov. 3, but with no framework, though lawmakers were discussing the details before their session was shortened by the pandemic. Should the legislature opt to allow betting a pro venues, Snyder will be better armed to decide how to proceed and could potentially be able to offer sports betting in both states, if the team has a foot in each.
According to the new law, up to five professional sports teams/venues could offer retail and mobile sports wagering — one each from Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL, and Major League Soccer.
Carve-outs for college sports
Sports betting in Virginia looks similar to most other states, with two notable exceptions, both regarding college sports.
First up, you can’t wager on any and all Virginia college and university action. This is similar to New Jersey’s law, where in-state collegiate betting markets are closed. It would have been frustrating or problematic during the Virginia Cavaliers’ NCAA men’s college basketball championship run in 2019.
An additional wrinkle in the Virginia legalization push is the state of sports wagering in the nation’s capital. In 2019, it was was legalized in Washington, D.C., and in late May after multiple delays, including the COVID-19 crisis, the D.C. Lottery launched its “GamBetDC” sportsbook app. The app was ready in late March, but the Lottery opted not to launch it with pro sports suspended during the COVID-19 crisis beginning March 2020. It eventually hit the market a few months later with mixed reviews.
In August, the nation’s first sportsbook inside a pro sports venue opened when William Hill began taking bets at its new Capital One Arena location. The venue is home to the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals.
Additionally, the only District-wide online operator at this time is the DC Lottery, operating a system via Intralot, which has already rolled out an abominable product in Montana. Despite other states having over 80%+ of their bets online, William Hill retail sports betting has dominated the DC betting market most likely due to the horrendous lines offered online.
Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in D.C.?
They’ll be coming at the big arenas and ballparks, including at Capital One Arena, as well as bars and restaurants able to apply for individual licenses. It looks and feels like a big mess right now, and the transient population around the D.C. area means Virginia-based sportsbooks would likely take a big slice of the action.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s legalization is expected to pull some customers from West Virginia, which legalized sports betting in March of 2018. DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM all have online sportsbooks there, and there are five brick-and-mortar operations at all the existing casinos and racetracks.
As noted above, Maryland residents approved a bare-bones measure to legalize sports betting, leaving key decisions up to lawmakers and regulators going forward. Unlike Virginia, Maryland already has six operating casinos and a gaming control agency.
Banking options in Virginia are similar to those offered in other states. These include the following, though not all sportsbooks utilize all of these options.
- Online banking
- Cash at the casino cages
- Site-specific prepaid debit cards
- Paper check