Governor Ralph Northam next to the Virginia State Capitol.

  • Governor Ralph Northam requested various amendments to bills centering around legalizing sports betting in Virginia.
  • Special sessions took place on Wednesday to discuss and vote on the amendments requested by the Governor where all were passed.
  • Governor Northam will have until May 28 to either sign or veto the three sports betting bills.

RICHMOND, Va. – A trio of Virginia sports betting bills requiring amendments were discussed and passed on Wednesday in the House of Virginia’s General Assembly.

On March 20, House Bill 4, House Bill 896, and Senate Bill 384 were all signed and passed along to VA Governor Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. He had until 11:59 p.m. on April 11 to sign the bills into law.

Instead, he opted to send the bills back to the House and Senate for amendments before he would sign them. After the session on Wednesday, it looks as though the governor got everything he asked for.

The Amendments Requested

There were many proposed amendments to go along with the sports betting bills for the Commonwealth of Virginia. One such amendment is to require FBI background checks for those that would be involved in running gambling businesses which includes sportsbooks.

The fee for this would be an extra $50,000 which could equate to an extra $1 million should companies have as many as 20 partners with over a 5% stake in the business. This would be an added fee to the already existing licensing fees.

For VA HB 4, VA HB 896, and VA SB 384 the Governor would like to include NASCAR events for all sportsbooks to add to their list of offerings. If these bills pass with amendments the FBI background check would be a requirement, NASCAR events would be included in all sports betting venues within the Commonwealth, and as many as 20 sportsbooks through various platforms would be seen in Virginia.

There would be five land-based establishments, 12 internet sports betting outlets, and anywhere from 1-3 professional sports stadiums that would be eligible to offer gambling on sporting events to their fans.

The Hearing

The special session House hearing first went over House Bill 4 and the requested amendments. Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) spoke on VA HB 4.

“Madam Speaker, speaking to the amendments of House Bill 4, the first is technical where it conforms the Problem Gambling Voluntary Exclusion clause, it makes it uniform on all gaming bills, lottery, sports betting, historical racing, so this is technical and all the rest of the bills will have the same things done to them,” said Knight. “Number two, the second amendment is technical, we were trying to get verbiage from the FBI on background checks so now we have uniformity so they could do background checks on service personnel of the casino. The third amendment is the amendment that directs all state net tax casino gaming proceeds to go to school construction, renovation, or upgrades. We know that the first casino may not be operating for a couple of years so we have a chance to fine tune this. It’s fairly general in its nature right now but we can flush it out in a year or two to come.”

The Governor’s amendment requests to House Bill 4 passed with a vote of 66 AYES and 29 NAYS.

Next in line for discussion was VA HB 896. Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) spoke on House Bill 896.

“This is the mobile app sports betting bill, the amendments you see before you are largely administrative in nature and they were provided by the Virginia Lottery to help them manage this and come up with rules that they’ve got to do by next September,” said Sickles. “One change that you might be interested in is that the two motorsport facilities in Martinsville and here in Richmond have to be able to do joint marketing. This does not give them any step up to getting a license themselves but they want to be able to jointly advertise their product with somebody that does have a license. Another change that I was told was made to make the sports betting bill consistent with the casino bill (that also allows sports betting within it) was to require a $50,000 fee for doing background checks on people who have more than a 5% ownership interest in the entity. This has caused a little bit of flack and I wanted to assure everyone that this fee is only to apply to executives or those that control the sports wagering platform in Virginia and will be further clarified and defined in the lottery regulations. If this causes a problem later, we can address it.”

The Governor’s amendment requests for House Bill 896 passed in the House with a vote of 64 AYES and 30 NAYS.

The last bill up for discussion was VA SB 384 with the Senate. After quickly speaking on the amendments that Governor Northam requested, the Senate voted in favor of the changes. All three bills to legalize sports betting and the amendment requests by the Governor for the bills were approved by a majority vote in both the House and Senate sessions.

The End Result

Virginia estimates $89 million annually in revenue from the sports betting market. Governor Northam has until May 28 to either sign or veto the amended bills.

With the required amendments being approved by the House and Senate, there is no reason to believe that the Governor will not sign the bills as they now include his original recommendations.

With the signing of these bills, legal sports betting would become available in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and of the three bills, House Bill 4 would be put on the November 2020 ballot for residents to vote on as it requires an amendment to the Constitution.

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