RICHMOND — Two lawmakers are trying to bring legalized sports betting to Virginia, joining other states that are exploring that option since the Supreme Court cleared the way this past spring.
State Sen. Chap Petersen and Del. Mark D. Sickles, both Fairfax Democrats, announced last week that they were filing separate bills to legalize betting on professional sports. Both measures would exclude college sports.
There are significant differences between the two plans, in terms of where bets could be placed and how the state would spend resulting tax revenue. But both are premised on the notion that the high court’s ruling has made sports betting inevitable in neighboring states, so Virginia ought to get in on it.
“States are moving in that direction,” Petersen said. “It’s a reality.”
In May, the court struck down a law that had largely outlawed sports wagering outside of Nevada. Congress had passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in the early 1990s in the name of protecting the integrity of sports. Only Nevada’s sports-wagering industry was protected, although a handful of other states had sports lotteries.
New Jersey, seeking to revive struggling casinos and racetracks by authorizing sports betting at the facilities, challenged the measure with the lawsuit that drew the high court’s decision.
A 2017 report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimated that as many as 32 states could offer legal sports betting within five years. It has already arrived at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, where the legislature passed a law allowing sports gambling in March — months before the court ruled — with the expectation that New Jersey would prevail.
Maryland, which already has casinos, has not yet legalized sports betting. Neither has the District, but in September, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) proposed a bill that would let residents and visitors wager on sports contests.
“I think it’s time to bring illegal sports gambling that’s going on into the light, have it regulated and have it benefit Virginia’s economy,” Sickles said.
The plans come as Virginia’s traditional opposition to gaming has softened. The General Assembly this year legalized a video horse-racing game that is similar to slot machines. There are no casinos in Virginia, but the Pamunkey Indian tribe has been pursuing the idea of building one, possibly near Richmond. It has yet to settle on a location.
Sickles’s bill calls for a 15 percent tax on the adjusted gross revenue of sports wagering, which he said could generate about $41 million a year for the state. He would earmark that for major research projects undertaken by state universities, something he said would help diversify the state’s defense-heavy economy.
Petersen is still working on his bill and has not yet determined how much the betting revenue would be taxed. He wants the money split between localities and the Virginia Community College System, with the latter used to reduce tuition.
Petersen’s plan would require that bets be placed in person at off-track betting facilities or other locations where gamblers would socialize — and generate more business by spending money on food and drink. Localities would have to adopt an ordinance by referendum before those establishments could be licensed.
“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not as interested in Internet gambling,” Petersen said. “I think of it more as a form of entertainment. I’m not interested in addicted gamblers sitting in the basement wagering. Go out, place a bet, socialize.”
Sickles’s bill would allow for in-person or online betting. He said the online option might make it easier to verify a person’s name and age given all the data linked to cellphones and computers.
In the District, Evans’s bill would tax sports-betting operators 10 percent of their gross revenue. Half of the money would subsidize early childhood care and similar programs, with the rest dedicated to fund the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. If those programs are fully funded, any excess would go to the city’s discretionary general fund.