Both the Virginia House and Senate passed bills on Monday to repeal the Commonwealth’s prohibition against the online sale of lottery tickets. The bills also tackle sports betting.
The votes weren’t unanimous, but they still passed easily. It was 70-27 in favor of HB 896 in the House and 27-12 for SB 384 in the Senate. As the bills are not identical, lawmakers must construct a compromise bill, pass that, and send it on to the Governor. Odds look pretty good for that to happen, as the bills are not far apart.
If the repeal of the current law does go through, Virginia would become the seventh state to allow online lottery sales, following Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Illinois, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Virginia does not have any legal gambling besides the lottery, so internet instant-win games could fill a niche while residents wait for casino legalization and eventual construction. While some instant-win online lottery games look like scratch-off tickets, others are made to look like casino games like slots. They are still just random number scratchers, but with a pretty face. Virginia residents who are jonesing to play slots or other casino-type games could be drawn to these.
(Dumb tidbit: I tried a Wheel of Fortune “slots” instant-win game on a different state’s lottery site last night. Play money, just a demo. I bet $50 in fake money per spin, starting with a $1,000 bankroll. I hit it big early and was up $1,500. Of course, I ended up losing it all because that’s how these things tend to go.)
As I mentioned, the two bills are not exactly the same. The online lottery parts are, so that’s no problem. There are differences in the sports betting portions, though. The House is looking to impose a higher tax on sportsbooks’ adjusted gross revenue than the Senate, 20 percent versus 15 percent. A different House bill only set forth for a 10 percent tax, but the House went with HB 896.
Applications fees are the same in both bills. It’s $250,000 to apply for a sports betting license and $200,000 to renew it every three years.
The House and Senate also treat college sports differently. The Senate has no restrictions on wagering on college games, but the House bill disallows betting on games in which in-state schools are competing. The Commonwealth is home to loads of colleges and universities, including my alma mater and defending Men’s Basketball and Lacrosse champs, the University of Virginia.
One spot in which both chambers agree is the required use of official league data. This is something the sports betting industry detests. The leagues have tried in the past to get state legislation to include an “integrity fee” that goes straight to the leagues’ coffers, but these have generally been shot down. So, as a way to finagle more money out legalized sports betting, they have also tried to get states to mandate the use of official league data. That use comes at a price – sportsbooks don’t get it for free.
Many sportsbooks do use league data and are happy to pay for the privilege. There are other third-party providers out there, though, and some sportsbooks prefer to use them for cost purposes.