General Assembly to Consider Legalizing Sports Betting

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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

More: Lawmakers Tout Plan for Casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth

Members of the General Assembly from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville urged their colleagues Monday to approve legislation to allow casino gambling in those cities. They said the plan would create jobs and boost the economy.

Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Bristol, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, joined delegates from each locality at a news conference to push for a state law authorizing casinos. They said that in seven years, such gambling operations could generate a total of nearly $100 million in local revenue and create about 16,000 jobs.

Under the legislation, a referendum would be held in each of the cities, and voters would have to agree whether to allow casinos to be built.

“This is an opportunity for not only us but for southwest and Danville to join forces and give the citizens a choice,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. “A choice to bring a revenue streak, to help pay for schools, give teachers raises and do the things we need to do.”

Republicans and Democrats from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville have partnered on the legislative initiative, saying their cities face similar financial problems.

“We’re struggling, and our economies are struggling,” Carrico said. “And for me, I want to see Bristol do well. But I also see that Sen. Lucas and Del. Marshall are struggling as well.”

The median annual household income is about $49,000 in Portsmouth, $38,000 in Bristol and $35,000 in Danville — far below the statewide median of $69,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the average household income in Fairfax County is more than $117,000.

“The city of Danville had two Fortune 500 companies that at one point had 60,000 jobs. We’ve had to close four schools in the area due to the lack of population,” Marshall said. “But Danville is working hard to rebuild, and we are having some successes.”

Four bills to authorize casino gambling have been introduced for this legislative session. They are SB 1126, sponsored by Lucas; SB 1503, proposed by Carrico; HB 1890, filed by James; and HB 2536, carried by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, who represents Bristol and surrounding counties.

While casino gambling bills have failed in the past, Lucas and Carrico said requiring community input through a referendum gives this year’s legislation the advantage needed to pass the General Assembly.

In a Q&A session, officials were asked about potential issues that could come from introducing casino gambling, such as crime and addiction. They said authorities would use tax revenues from casinos to address public needs like school facilities, law enforcement and social services.

“We’re going to appoint so much money to addiction abuse and public safety and keep it a safe, industrial way to produce revenue,” Carrico said. “This is a tightly regulated industry.”

At the news conference, legislators also were asked about religious objections some citizens have to casinos. The lawmakers said their proposals would impose regulations on the industry to safeguard the community.

Carrico, a religious man himself, met with pastors and said they were open to the suggestion of casinos. The religious leaders appreciated the ability to vocalize their concerns in the public referendum, the senator said.

Two Bristol businessmen plan to fund construction of the casino in the city.

Jim McGlothlin, CEO of the United Company, and Clyde Stacy, owner of Par Ventures, are long-time partners and coal barons. At the news conference, McGlothlin said the project will not need government funding. McGlothlin said the region’s economic problems are significant and need a ‘big, bold’ project to compete with neighboring states.

As a result, the legislation needs only to pass the General Assembly and garner majority support in a local referendum for the dice to start rolling.

Lucas said casinos are the most efficient way to pull Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol out of an economic rut.

“We just want to create economic development in these three parts of the state,” Lucas said. “It’s plain and simple.”

By Kathleen Shaw, Arianna Coghill and Katja Timm / Capital News Service