Virginia sports betting is on track to launch in January 2021, beginning with mobile betting and continuing later with sportsbooks at casinos and professional sports venues.

The Virginia betting landscape changed dramatically in early 2020 with the passage of gaming bills to authorize mobile sportsbooks, retail sportsbooks, and the construction of up to five casinos. Regulators have since drawn up additional regulations and begun the licensing process to expand Virginia’s gambling industry.

Other online betting options in Virginia include horse racing betting and daily fantasy sports (DFS). Both activities are legal and regulated by the state. Online horse racing betting operators and DFS sites must register with the state before offering their services to residents.

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Virginia Sports Betting

Virginia legalized in-person and online sports betting in April 2020 with the passage of SB 384.

SB 384 permits up to twelve standalone mobile sportsbooks and allows casinos, professional sports venues, and the state’s two NASCAR racetracks to launch online betting platforms. Professional sports venues and five yet-to-be-built casinos may also apply for licenses to operate retail sportsbooks.

Mobile betting operators are subject to a 15% tax on adjusted gross revenue and a licensing fee of $250,000 plus $50,000 for every principal who controls a 5% or greater stake in the organization.

Key things to know about Virginia sports betting:

  • Online betting is anticipated to launch in January 2021 or shortly after that
  • The minimum age to participate is 21
  • Sportsbooks may accept wagers on professional sports, college sports, and esports
  • Sportsbooks may not accept wagers on games involving in-state college teams or the Olympics, prop best on college games, in-play bets on college games, wagers on any type of injury, or wagers on officiating calls
  • Customers may register and deposit from anywhere but must be located within state lines to place wagers

Virginia Mobile Sports Betting Apps

The first Virginia mobile betting apps may launch as early as January 2021.

The Lottery Board is responsible for regulating sports betting and issuing licenses and will ultimately determine when the first mobile sportsbooks are approved to go live.

The Lottery Board says legal sports betting will begin in January “at the earliest.” Regulators have moved quickly to draft regulations and initiate the licensing process, making a January launch realistic.

Virginia differs from most states with legal sports betting in that it does not require mobile operators to partner with local casinos or racetracks. Under state law, the Lottery Board may approve a limited number of standalone mobile sportsbook licenses.

Casinos, major league sports franchises, the operators of major league facilities, and two NASCAR racetracks may also apply for sports betting licenses.

It is unclear which online betting operators will apply for licenses, but a partial list of likely applicants includes:

The Lottery Board has cleared most of the hurdles needed to launch sports betting. The Board approved additional regulations in September 2020 and began accepting licensing applications in October.

The Board has 90 days from the receipt of a licensing application to make a decision, which gives the Board until mid-January 2021 to begin issuing approvals. Barring any surprises, sports betting should start shortly after that.

Regulations approved by the Lottery Board detail the types of deposit methods VA mobile sportsbooks may accept:

  • Debit and credit card
  • Electronic bank transfers
  • Online and mobile payment systems
  • Winnings, payouts, bonuses, and promotions
  • Reloadable prepaid cards issued directly to customers
  • “Any other means approved by the Board

Licensed VA betting sites must promote responsible gambling by providing information about self-exclusion options, notifying customers of the passage of time, giving bettors the ability to initiate cooling off periods, not offering credit, and offering promotions that are not misleading.

Virginia sports betting law allows professional sports franchises and stadium operators that meet certain conditions to apply for sports wagering licenses.

Professional sports franchises in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLS that play five or more regular season games per year in Virginia may apply for licenses to operate retail sportsbooks and mobile betting platforms.

Further, the VA Lottery is instructed to “give substantial and preferred consideration” to franchise applicants headquartered in Virginia and that remitted more than $200 million in state income tax withholdings for the 2019 tax year.

The operators of sports facilities where a professional sports franchise holds at least five games per season may also apply for sports betting licenses. Facilities that pay more than $10 million in payroll and employ 100 or more people are to be given substantial and preferred consideration.

Facility licenses should be of particular interest to the Washington Redskins, who are headquartered in Ashburn, VA but play at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The team will reconsider its stadium’s location in 2027 when its current lease for FedEx Field expires. The new VA sports betting law could prove instrumental in convincing the Redskins to relocate to the Commonwealth.

Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway are also permitted to apply for sports wagering licenses under adjustments to the legislation suggested by Governor Ralph Northam.

Legislation passed alongside the VA sports betting bill allows the construction of up to five casinos pending local approval from host cities. Casinos that are approved may also apply for licenses to operate retail sportsbooks and mobile betting platforms.

The Lottery Board is directed by state law to issue a minimum of four sports betting permits and no more than twelve, but it’s not that simple.

Virginia law states that a permit does not count toward the minimum if it is issued to a major league sports franchise, the operator of a major league facility, or a casino operator.

Additionally, a permit does not count toward the maximum if it is issued to a major league sports franchise or the operator of a major league facility.

Virginia Horse Racing Betting

Virginia legalized parimutuel wagering in 1988 and issued the first (and only) racetrack license in 1994 to Colonial Downs.

Colonial Downs opened in 1997 and closed in November 2014 amid declining interest in horse racing and disputes between the track and its horsemen’s association.

In 2018, the Virginia legislature voted to allow Colonial Downs to install historical racing machines at the track and off-track betting locations (OTBs) in a bid to revitalize the state’s horse racing industry.

Colonial Downs scored another win in 2019 after city residents in Danville approved a referendum allowing the group to establish an OTB with historical horse racing machines. Today, Colonial Downs hosts live thoroughbred racing three days a week.

Online Horse Racing Betting

Advance deposit wagering is legal in Virginia, and customers have several licensed betting sites to choose from. The two most popular horse racing betting sites open to Virginia residents include:

VA Code § 59.1-369 tasks the Virginia Racing Commission with regulating advance deposit wagering and issuing regulations for issuing licenses, collecting revenue for the state, and more.

By law, horse racing betting sites must acquire licenses from the Virginia Racing Commission before offering their services to residents.

11VAC10-45-30 states:

Before beginning operations in Virginia, the account wagering licensee must be qualified to do business in Virginia.

Licensed racing betting apps and websites must also verify the identity of each customer and maintain wagering activity records for at least one year.

Virginia Fantasy Sports Law

Virginia formally legalized daily fantasy sports contests in 2016. The Fantasy Contests Act was signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe in February of that year with the intent of protecting consumers and bringing oversight to the industry. The bill requires from operators the following:

  • Register with the state and pay a $50,000 registration fee
  • Prevent anyone under 18 from participating
  • Prevent employees from competing in real money contests and sharing confidential information
  • Provide a self-exclusion mechanism for customers

Casinos in Virginia

Lawmakers legalized casinos in Virginia with the passage of HB 4 in 2020.

Under the law, up to five casinos in total may be constructed in Virginia if approved via referendum in each of five cities selected to potentially host casinos. Residents in Portsmouth, Richmond, Norfolk, Danville and Bristol will vote in November 2020 on whether or not their respective cities should permit the construction of casinos.

The VA casino law establishes a $15 million licensing fee for operators and requires a capital investment of at least $300 million. Once approved, VA casinos may offer a full range of games including slots, table games, poker and sports betting.

Casino tax rates are to be applied on a sliding scale based on revenue:

  • 18% tax on the first $200 million of adjusted gross revenue
  • 23% on revenue in excess of $200 million and up to $400 million
  • 30% on revenue in excess of $400 million

Virginia law also calls for a Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund that will be supported by anywhere from 6% to 8% of casino revenue. The Virginia Lottery Board will regulate casinos in the Commonwealth and the law establishes a minimum gambling age of 21.

Virginia Online Gambling

Chapter 8, Article 1 of the Code of Virginia deals with gambling in the Commonwealth and prohibits most forms of gaming.

VA Code § 18.2-325 defines illegal gambling as follows:

“Illegal gambling” means the making, placing, or receipt of any bet or wager in the Commonwealth of money or other consideration or thing of value, made in exchange for a chance to win a prize, stake, or other consideration or thing of value, dependent upon the result of any game, contest, or any other event the outcome of which is uncertain or a matter of chance, whether such game, contest, or event occurs or is to occur inside or outside the limits of the Commonwealth.

Online casinos and poker sites are prohibited in Virginia under current law.

Virginia is one of the few states in the Union that specifically mention internet gambling. § 18.2-326 was amended in 2011 to include the phrase “interstate gambling.” This section explains that anyone who participates in an unlawful gambling game is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. The punishment for a Class 3 misdemeanor in Virginia is a fine of up to $500 and no jail time.

The penalty for participating in gambling is minor, but Virginia is quite tough on those who operate “illegal gambling enterprises.” According to § 18.2-328, anyone who runs an unlawful gambling game that has been in continuous operation for more than 30 days or has gross revenue exceeding $2,000 in any single day is subject to 1 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Social games are permitted in Virginia under § 18.2-334. This section makes it legal to participate in a game of chance in a private residence as long as the residence is not commonly used for gambling and the operator takes no profit.

Virginia has not yet legalized online poker, but it’s not for lack of effort. Two court cases and a piece of legislation that made it through the Senate may have legalized online poker had history turned out a bit differently.

One case involved a man who ran poker halls in Virginia up until 2010. The Portsmouth District Attorney ordered Charles Daniels to close his poker halls down, and the man decided to fight it in court. The case received significant coverage in poker media and eventually went to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The central question around which the case revolved was whether or not poker was a game of skill. With the help of the Poker Player’s Alliance and WSOP winner Greg Raymer, Daniels argued that poker was just as much a contest of skill as any other game. Poker players across the state closely watched the case as the court’s ruling could open the doors for poker in Virginia.

In the end, the Virginia Supreme Court threw out the case because it felt Charles Daniels didn’t have standing.

A separate case between George Pitsilides and the Virginia government looked more promising. He faced three felony charges for running a poker game and decided to fight the charges on the grounds that poker is a game of skill.

George’s case also fizzled in late 2013. Prosecutors agreed to drop the three felony charges and instead charge him with two misdemeanors. He received no jail time and surrendered nearly $280,000 in cash and gambling supplies.

Finally, a bill to classify poker as a game of skill made it further than any other such bill in Virginia. Senate Bill 1400 was introduced in January of 2017 and made it through to a full vote in the Senate, which it passed. The bill then moved over to the house and died there.

This bill itself did not seek to legalize online poker, but its objective of classifying poker as a game of skill would do much to advance the likelihood of online poker becoming legal in Virginia.

Virginia Lottery

The Virginia Lottery was authorized by a public vote in 1987 and then launched in 1989 where it immediately racked up nearly $410 million in sales. Lottery sales have risen nearly every year since then and today, the lottery achieve annual sales in the range of $2 billion, with upwards of $600 million going towards education every year.

The current lineup of Virginia Lottery games includes a collection of state drawings, multi-state drawings (Powerball, Mega Millions and Cash4Life), instant win games and print-n-play games that can be instantly purchased at any retailer without even filling out a play slip.

Players may also download the official Virginia Lottery mobile app to check winning numbers, see current jackpots, find nearby retailers, save their favorite numbers and enter second chance promotions by scanning old tickets.

Virginia does not have a full-fledged online lottery, but it does offer online subscriptions for Mega Millions, Powerball and Cash4Life. Subscriptions can be purchased for a single drawing (which basically means individual ticket sales for those three games) or for as long as one year into every single drawing.

The minimum deposit at the Virginia Online Lottery is $20 and winnings of less than $100 are credited instantly to your account. If you win more than $100, you will be notified to fill out an online claim form to collect your winnings. All players are given 180 days to claim their winnings.