Virginians wagered $865 million in first four months of sports betting

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 2:50 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Sports betting is now legal in the commonwealth and has been for five months now. Millions are clearly buying in, but is it generating the tax revenue the state thought it would?

Forget Vegas. Skill games are at restaurants and even gas stations across Virginia, though these are scheduled to go away on July 1 by a change in state law.

Richmond is betting voters will take a risk on building a casino. As of Jan. 1, legal wagers through smartphone apps exploded onto the scene.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the flood gates three years ago striking down a federal law banning sports betting in most states.

“I’ve only made one sports wager in my life and that was at a sportsbook in Las Vegas a small wager on my college football team,” Delegate Mark Sickles from Fairfax said. Sickles sponsored the bill to officially bring sports betting to Virginia. “I just want the state to benefit from these revenues since it’s happening anyway.”

The state’s watchdog agency, JLARC, reviewed gaming in the commonwealth before it became legal. It pointed out Virginians were already wagering over a billion each year on the lottery, charitable gaming and horse races. The report noted that the figure didn’t include any illegal activity with offshore sportsbooks which are already easily accessed via smartphone.

In the first four months of this year, Virginians have wagered $865 million. The commonwealth’s winnings? $3.2 million in tax revenue.

“The revenues that we hope to get have not started yet. It’s still pretty early. We think there’s an opportunity to bring in maybe $50 million dollars a year to the state,” Delegate Sickles said.

Since the Supreme Court decision, nearly 75 percent of U.S. states have either legalized sports wagering or introduced legislation to do so.

“We’ve legalized a product people were engaging in, in not a legal and regulated way. So, now they have a safe outlet that both protects the consumer and provides such great revenue,” said Jessica Fiel, vice president of government relations at the American Gaming Association. “Our industry takes responsible gaming commitments extremely seriously. We spend over 300 million a year on responsible gambling efforts.”

Licensed operators like Fan Duel and Draft Kings are charged a 15% tax on the money they make in Virginia. Just 2.5% of that tax goes to the commonwealth’s problem gambling treatment and support fund. So far, from the $865 million spent by Virginians, the funds collected are $79,398.47. That fund is run by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health.

“We’re going to have a lot of different strategies that we want to use with the prevention approach, and yes, heightening community awareness in terms of resources for support and for treatment,” said Gail Taylor, a member of the department.

When asked if we are going to see advertisements about the helpline, Taylor said, “We want to start from the very beginning, early on, before problems occur. Then also making sure the resources like the helpline is promoted.“

Calls to the state’s gambling hotline have more than doubled since January when compared to the first four months of 2020. The vast majority of those who called in were men between the ages of 18 and 45. March saw the most dramatic uptick in calls during March Madness, but it was also gambling awareness month and a campaign was underway.

Delegate Sickles says he is concerned about an increase in gambling addiction, but he also said that’s also why money is being set aside.

“I think that the average sports better is a little bit different from the people that are addicted to the roulette table or playing blackjack or poker.”

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, they can call, text or chat with someone for free at 1-888-532-3500.

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