Virginia General Assembly could see efforts to allow sports gambling, official says

in Lottery

If sports gambling were legalized throughout the state –  the Virginia Lottery could end up being a major player. Kevin Hall, executive director of the Virginia Lottery said, “Let me just pitch on the 30-year history and the brand, the existing retail network and the proficencies we have in marketing. And the fact that we do support policies of social purpose.” 

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legal sports gambling could unleash a flurry of legislative proposals to secure Virginia a cut of the action, the state’s secretary of finance predicts.

“You’re going to see a big push in the General Assembly session, probably the beginning of this year,” Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said at a public lottery meeting Wednesday. “Because, as you all know, there are significant monies involved in (sports gambling) – very significant.”

If sports gambling were legalized throughout the state – which a 2017 report predicted would happen within two years – the Virginia Lottery could end up being a major player.

Kevin Hall, executive director of the Virginia Lottery, boasted at the meeting about its existing infrastructure and future capabilities.

“Let me just pitch on the 30-year history and the brand, the existing retail network and the proficiencies we have in marketing. And the fact that we do support policies of social purpose,” said Hall, who joked that he was not lobbying Layne at a public meeting.

John Hagerty, a lottery spokesman, said the organization won’t take a stand on whether the state should allow sports gambling, or who would be in charge of it.

“It’s not our role to push for anything or to say, ‘Here’s what we’d like,’ ” Hagerty said. “That’s all in the hands of the General Assembly.”

To varying degrees, eight states have already legalized sports gambling, which allows people to place wagers on the outcome of games. In states that have passed laws allowing the practice, lotteries have often been at the forefront of running the operations.

But don’t bet on it happening in Virginia just yet.

For years, the state has been strongly anti-gambling. Over the past decades, the state has rejected the practice at internet cafes, on riverboats and in any type of casino — but the tide has changed in recent years. Revolutionary Racing spent $20 million to buy the horse-racing track Colonial Downs, and the Pamunkey Indian tribe is working on plans to build a world-class casino in the state.

What sports gambling would look like in Virginia is still anyone’s guess, with major questions surrounding regulations, whether sports leagues would see a cut of the profits, how to tax it and which organizations would be allowed to offer betting.

“We’re like everyone else, we’re waiting to see what the General Assembly decides,” said Hagerty, the lottery spokesman, in a phone interview. “The landscape has changed dramatically, just in the last few months. We obviously want to educate ourselves, but we don’t know if the lottery is going to play any role in sports betting – if sports betting even comes to Virginia.”

Layne advised the lottery to push out the message of its social impact, as all of its profits go to K-12 education. He said the social impact is going to be “very definitive in what eventually comes through the General Assembly.”

So far, Virginia lottery officials have looked to other states to see what they have been doing after the Supreme Court decision.

In Rhode Island, for example, the U.K.-based International Game Technology was the only bidder to run the state’s sports gambling, according to the Providence Journal. IGT is a major partner of both the Rhode Island and Virginia lotteries. And the company runs the Virginia Lottery’s gaming systems.

Some nearby states, like Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, have already passed laws that legalize sports gambling, and it has shown to be big business in some cases. When New Jersey allowed sports gambling in July, it saw $16 million in bets the first two weeks, according to The Associated Press.

But people in the room Wednesday thought the Virginia Lottery would be up to the task.

“I personally can’t think of any better group to really lead that charge than this group,” said Robert Howard, a lottery board member.

https://pilotonline.com/news/government/virginia/article_596e62bc-86df-11e8-b10b-87d63d2b6985.html