General Assembly to consider legalizing sports betting after Supreme Court decision

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia would become the ninth state to legalize sports betting under legislation being considered by the General Assembly this session.

Lawmakers have introduced three bills to legalize sports betting, license betting operations and tax their revenues. Under the proposals, people would be able to bet only on professional sports; betting on college and youth sports would be prohibited.

Many legislators seem to agree that legalized sports betting is inevitable after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a federal law prohibiting such gambling in most states.

“Sports gaming is going to be legal across the United States. There is no reason to keep it illegal when our neighboring states are already moving to legalize,” stated Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, sponsor of SB 1238.

Petersen’s measure would create the Virginia Sports Betting Department to regulate betting operations, which would be located only in localities that agree to allow gambling.

Under SB 1238, operators would pay an application fee of $5,000 and a tax of 10 percent of adjusted gross revenues. The department would keep 2.5 percent of the tax revenue to defray its administrative costs and help problem gamblers. The remaining money would be split between the locality where it was generated and a fund to help community college students.

Two Democratic delegates from Fairfax County also have filed bills to legalize sports betting.

Under HB 1638, sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, the Virginia Lottery would regulate sports betting. Betting operators would pay a $250,000 application fee and a 15 percent tax on adjusted gross revenues. The lottery would retain 2.5 percent of the revenues to cover administrative costs and assist problem gamblers. The rest of the money would go toward a new initiative called the Virginia Research Investment Fund.

Besides sports betting, Sickles’ bill also would authorize the Virginia Lottery to sell tickets over the internet — a practice now prohibited.

The third bill allowing sports betting is HB 2210, by Del. Marcus Simon. It would direct the Virginia Lottery to regulate electronic sports betting (and, like Sickles’ legislation, to sell lottery tickets over the internet). Simon’s bill would impose a 10 percent tax on the gross adjusted revenue of operations that receive a permit to conduct sports betting. The lottery would keep 3 percent of the tax receipts; the rest would go into a fund to help problem gamblers.

HB 2210 would provide protections for people who may be susceptible to compulsive gambling. For example, people could voluntarily add themselves to a list of individuals who are excluded from engaging in electronic sports betting or buying lottery tickets.

Simon’s bill includes a section on “Sports Bettors Rights” and details procedures to ensure that people who win their bets receive their money, to intervene in instances of problem or at-risk bettors, to protect bettors’ privacy and to provide “transparency of sports betting,” such as the odds of winning a bet.

“I am introducing a Sports Bettors Bill of Rights to make sure that consumers and participants are part of that conversation from the very beginning,” Simon stated.

His “bill of rights” includes provisions to prohibit underage betting and prevent marketing sports betting to minors. Under all of the legislative proposals, sports betting would be limited to Virginians 21 and older — unlike the legal age to purchase lottery tickets, which is 18.

Simon’s bill has been applauded by an organization of sports fans.

“This bill is the most consumer-friendly sports betting bill the Sports Fans Coalition has seen at any level of government,” stated Brian Hess, the group’s executive director. “It is the only piece of legislation that hits all five of our Sports Bettors’ Bill of Rights.”

The coalition’s five principles are “integrity and transparency; data privacy and security; self-exclusion; protection of the vulnerable; and recourse.”

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to legalized sports betting in May when it overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. That federal law prohibited sports betting except in states like Nevada that had previously permitted such gambling.

Besides Nevada, sports betting is legal in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Mississippi.

By Andrew Gionfriddo and Ben Burstein/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.