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Virginia Sports Betting Bill Would Be Boon for Sports Leagues

A Virginia sports betting bill would be a boon for a wide range of businesses, but professional sports leagues – and one NFL team in particular – are positioned to be among its largest beneficiaries.

The legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this month gives the leagues preferred consideration for both retail and online sports betting licenses. The law requires at least four skins to be issued, but caps that number at 12.

Beyond five possible future casinos, which were legalized earlier this year in separate legislation and are now waiting for local voter approval in the 2020 elections, eligibility for other commercial establishments seeking betting license remains unclear. In any situation, professional sports interests have the highest billing.

Preferred status is explicitly granted to pro leagues that are headquartered in Virginia and generate more than $200 million in taxable revenue, a not-so-subtle nod to the Washington Redskins, which are based in Ashburn, a D.C. suburb.

More League Benefits

It also gives preferred standing to any professional sports team or venue operator that is both headquartered in Virginia and plays at least five regular-season games a year there, has taxable revenue of more than $10 million and plays in a venue that seats at least 100 people. No major sports league meets those criteria presently, but it possibly opens the door for smaller leagues and franchises to open sportsbooks.

It further mandates sportsbooks give “commercially reasonable” compensation back to the leagues for data used for in-play betting. Virginia would be just the fourth of 24 jurisdictions to pass sports betting laws that would require these data fees, following Tennessee, Illinois and Michigan.

As another benefit, the bill exempts the Redskins and other franchises from the same sportsbook affiliation disclosure requirements mandated for all other operators. The other entities are only allowed one third-party sportsbook brand and the law further requires they “conspicuously display its identity to sports bettors.”

The franchise too may only have one partner, but they don’t have to disclose their affiliation. In theory, that would mean a team such as the Redskins could offer online sports betting under the banner of a company such as FanDuel or DraftKings and not have to disclose any further information.

Redskins Could Be Big Winners

Virginia’s path to an in-stadium sportsbook comes after Redskins owner Dan Snyder had reportedly lobbied Virginia and Maryland lawmakers as both states weighed sports betting bills in 2020. The Virginia General Assembly passed a fleshed out bill before its 2020 session concluded, but Maryland was only able to approve a voter referendum question before it prematurely ended its session due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A majority of Maryland voters in the November 2020 election will have to first approve an amendment to the state constitution that would allow sports betting in the state. Then lawmakers would have to pass a follow-up bill that outlines key questions such as tax rates and purveyor access.

Including pro sports venues in that purveyor access list was a major sticking point in Annapolis. In Maryland, which already has six casinos and three major sports stadiums, granting an in-stadium sportsbook for FedEx Field in Landover, the Redskins’ current home stadium, would all-but assure owners for the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles would be given the same option. However, that could spark opposition from Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, which is steps from the two stadiums.

Like Maryland’s sports betting legislation, the Redskins’ stadium situation is also to be determined. Snyder has spent years planning a replacement for FedEx Field, one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL, playing off of officials in Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and the federal government. A stadium in the Old Dominion now appears to pave the way for a sportsbook, but a possible relocation across the Potomac River is unlikely before the team’s FedEx Field lease expires in 2027, if it happens at all.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser supports a return to the District on the site of RFK Stadium, the home venue for the team when it won each of its three Super Bowls. However, the stadium sits on federal land, which would need to be turned over to the District before a stadium could begin. Land ownership and is just one of a myriad of logistical hurdles for a D.C. stadium.

The city’s sports betting bill was the first in the nation to allow in-stadium sportsbooks. Capital One Arena, home to the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, is set to open its William Hill branded sportsbook later this year.

Virginia politicians have had more muted support for a Redskins stadium, but the caveats afforded pro franchise such as the Redskins in the 2020 sports betting bill means, at the very least, lawmakers in Richmond are willing to consider it.

Virginia is far and away the most populated state without the home stadium for an NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL or MLS team. The Washington Nationals opened their home park in southeast D.C. in 2008. Wizards and Capitals’ owner Ted Leonis is unlikely to leave Capital One Arena anytime soon, especially after opening an in-stadium sportsbook. MLS’ D.C. United moved into brand-new Audi Field, adjacent to Nationals Park, in 2018.

That leaves the Redskins as the only major franchise looking for a new home.

Future for Virginia Sports Betting

Assuming Gov. Ralph Northam signs the sports bill as expected, wagering could begin in the commonwealth as early as this year. Redskins Park, the team’s Ashburn headquarters, would, in theory, make the team eligible for one of the sports betting licenses, even if it never plays an actual game in Virginia.

The Virginia Lottery must first promulgate sports betting regulations, including a bettors’ “bill of rights,” by September of this year. The rules must be subsequently ratified by state officials following a public comment period, and all applicants must pass a regulatory review process before accepting bets.

That process will help determine how, or even if, a sports betting license would be issued for the Redskins. It remains to be seen if the team could open a sportsbook at its headquarter or another retail location, or if it may only take bets online.

That question, along with voter referendums in the five municipalities considering casinos as well as other possible operators, remains undetermined. Still, the sports betting bill is a possible windfall for pro sports interests, and the Washington Redskins in particular.

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