Online sports gaming kicks off in Virginia just in time for Super Bowl

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Legalized sports gaming is up and running in Virginia, but its rollout is a little counterintuitive given the two current casino projects in the region.

In Hampton Roads we have a casino ready to be built but still waiting for a sports gaming license, and a casino with a sports gaming license but still waiting to be ready to be built.

But for online sports wagering, Portsmouth was first on the scoreboard.

“BetRivers.com is live today in Virginia,” says Richard Schwartz, president of BetRivers, the online sports book company connected with what will eventually be the Portsmouth casino.

The company already operates online sports books in eight states, with land-based casinos in three of them – Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois.

It’s taking bets on the Super Bowl – the most heavily wagered American sporting event. In its most recent estimate, the American Gaming Association figured $6 billion was wagered on Super Bowl LIII two years ago, but only a little more than 5% of that was through legal sports books.

President Richard Schwartz says Virginia’s restrictions surrounding online sports betting are a little tougher than others.

“They don’t support betting on local Virginia college basketball or football, and that’s one of the more popular bets,” he said.

Schwartz fears losing that wagering to what he calls “black market” sites – ones that aren’t licensed in Virginia.

Other banned bets in the commonwealth – youth sports, referees’ calls, and anything related to injuries.

Other players are already on the sports betting field in Virginia, including Fanduel, Draft Kings and MGM among others.

Virginia will allow for what’s known as proposition or “prop” bets, meaning you’ll be able to bet on more than just who wins. Prop bets can cover anything from the coin toss, to who will catch the first pass, the length of the longest field goal, even which coach will be first to take off his mask.

The Norfolk casino to be operated by the Pamunkey Indians is still in the locker room when it comes to sports gaming, but a representative hopes that will soon change.

“The Pamunkey tribe has applied for a sports book, and fully expects to be approved,” said spokesman Jay Smith.

It would make the Norfolk operation unique in the state.

“We’ll be the only minority-owned sports book in Virginia, as well as the only Virginia-based sports book platform, and the importance of that means the profits actually stay here in Virginia,” Smith said.

Both projects say the sports gaming will reinforce the land-based casino, with Rivers planning to offer online players better odds when they’re on-site.

“We have the ability to track loyalty points, to redeem big payoffs for cash in person at the property,” Schwartz said.

The Norfolk Casino is expected to break ground in late spring or early summer. Portsmouth could break ground later this year if it gets approvals from the city and the Virginia Lottery Board.

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