The University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team will host in-state rival Virginia Tech on Wednesday. The matchup will generate viewing interest across the Commonwealth, but Virginians aren’t allowed to legally wager on it.
Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg hopes that will soon change. He recently introduced SB 124, a bill that would allow for bettors in Virginia to wager on in-state colleges.
A similar legislative effort failed in 2022, making it out of the Senate but not the House. However, VanValkenburg is cautiously optimistic that this year’s bill will pass.
“I’m hopeful that with time having passed, we’ll be able to get another look at it, and we’ll be able to get it through,” VanValkenburg said.
VanValkenburg’s desire to reverse the prohibition on in-state wagering comes three years after the launch of sports betting in Virginia in early 2021.
At the time of legalization, some legislators didn’t want college athletes to face possible harassment from angry bettors, among other concerns. Athlete harassment is an issue nationwide, and there was hope that by preventing legal wagering on in-state college teams, there might be fewer hateful comments directed at players.
That’s not quite the case, as bettors in other states still harass Virginia athletes online. Additionally, some Virginians place wagers on in-state teams through the unregulated market, meaning that in-state bettors may still harass athletes if their bets don’t hit.
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In previous legislative sessions, lawmakers shared concerns about possible match fixing if wagering on in-state colleges became legal. Those worries might be misguided, as the safeguards of a regulated market actually help reduce illegal activity.
Former Alabama baseball head coach Brad Bohannon was fired last spring for sharing inside information with a bettor who tried to place a wager on the game in Ohio. Safeguards in Ohio’s regulated market flagged the activity as suspicious, and ultimately Bohannon lost his job as information about his role in the scandal emerged.
VanValkenburg believes the extra protections of the regulated market outweigh any current benefits from the ban on in-state college betting.
“It’s better to bring it under a regulatory framework where we can properly monitor what’s happening,” VanValkenburg said.
Betting interest on in-state colleges could lead to a boost in handle across betting apps in the state.
Virginia and Virginia Tech have large followings, while Liberty and James Madison’s football teams both appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll in 2023. Other universities, like VCU and George Mason, have loyal basketball fans in Virginia.
Notable fan interest for wagering on in-state college teams could ultimately lead to increased tax revenue for Virginia. VanValkenburg is aware of the potential revenue bump in allowing bettors to wager on Virginia universities, but he stresses that’s not the focus of his bill.
“That’s a secondary benefit in this case,” VanValkenburg said. “To be honest, I would be okay with our general fund not depending on gambling at all. For me, it’s mostly about the regulation and monitoring component of it.”
The bill has been sent to the state’s Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. Virginia’s legislative session concludes on March 9, giving the legislature just under two months to consider the bill.