Virginia prepares to launch mobile bets

Virginia is getting ready to push the button.

The commonwealth expects to accept its first legal sports bets in the next couple of weeks as the vendors have been selected. More than a dozen companies are expected to be approved to do business across the state, which has a population of just over 8.5 million.

The timing is critical. The Super Bowl is Feb. 7. The NCAA Tournament is expected to tip off in mid- to late March, depending on the coronavirus situation. Hockey starts Jan. 13 and baseball begins in late March. Throw in NASCAR, golf, soccer and the NBA and inventory for the companies set to offer mobile phone apps to customers won’t have a problem.

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The Virginia Lottery is overseeing the launch and regulates sports betting within the state. Unlike states like New York where mobile is unavailable and bets can only be accepted in retail locations upstate, Virginia is doing the opposite. It is all about mobile at the start with retail sportsbooks down the road.

In November, Virginia voters approved casinos. However, their openings are still a year or two away at the earliest. And while no professional sports teams play in Virginia, there are two motor sports facilities — one in Richmond, the other in Martinsville. There’s also a horse track — Colonial Downs — in New Kent. Those three facilities could house a retail sportsbook at some point. And if the Washington Football Team opts to relocate to Virginia from Maryland, its new stadium could be the home to a retail sportsbook.

According to the Washington Post, 25 companies have applied for a license to operate in Virginia. Of those 25, about half are expected to be approved, perhaps more. The companies will be taxed at a rate of 15%. The hope is the state will get between $4 million to $5 million in tax revenue the first year from an estimated $400 million in wagers in 2021. The Post reported that projections for down the road when everything is fully operational call for up to $55 million a year in tax revenue to the state.

Who will be the players in Virginia? The most likely candidates are the big companies — DraftKings, William Hill, FanDuel, BetMGM, PointsBet USA and FOX Bet. All have done well in other states with their mobile apps and they would be ready to launch quickly.

For Virginia, timing is everything. The District of Columbia, which already had a William Hill retail sportsbook at Capital One Arena, saw William Hill launch its mobile app in the District last week. Maryland is quickly moving to launch sports betting. Both jurisdictions abut Virginia so the state doesn’t want to be caught playing catch-up to its neighbors, especially with those critical tax dollars on the line.

As the NFL prepares to launch its postseason this weekend, Virginians are preparing to load their sports betting apps on their phones in the hopes of making a wager on the playoffs and next month’s Super Bowl.

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