One year ago this month Virginia became the 21st U.S. jurisdiction to go live with sports wagering, less than a year from its legalization in April 2020.
FanDuel was the first online mobile sportsbook to go live in the commonwealth Jan. 21, 2021 through a partnership with the Washington Football Team.
Since then, bettors have poured more than $2.7 billion into Virginia sports betting in its first year.
New Law Makes Room for More Operators
Initially, a dozen operator licenses issued by the Virginia Lottery Board were approved for sportsbooks. There were 25 applicants. But the number of licenses is always being adjusted upward due to changes in the law.
FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, BetRivers, William Hill and WynnBET sportsbooks went live in Virginia between January and March. By the end of March, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation that allowed for more sportsbook operator licenses and betting on the Olympics. The law went into effect July 1.
Known as HB 1847, sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, and SB 1254, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy McPike, the new law separates mobile sportsbook operator licenses from casino licenses — which had fallen into the same category by Virginia Lottery Board interpretation. There could be five casinos with sportsbooks in Virginia. Now there could be 18 sportsbooks or more in the state based on the new law.
The new law also allowed for sports betting on Olympic sports, which had been classified under youth sports in the previous law and illegal to wager on.
First Year Puts 11 Sportsbooks Online in Virginia
The Virginia Lottery Board granted 13 licenses in its first year, with 11 of them live in the state by the end of 2021: FanDuel launched Jan. 21, DraftKings on Jan. 24, BetMGM on Jan. 27, BetRivers on Jan. 27, William Hill on Feb. 3, WynnBET on March 10, Unibet on April 28, Barstool on Aug. 10, Golden Nugget on Sept. 30, Bally Bet on Nov. 25 and PointsBet on Dec. 15.
In late November, the board awarded mobile sports betting licenses to Betway sportsbook and 888 Holdings. 888 Holdings is in a joint venture with the parent company of Sports Illustrated (SI), Authentic Brands Group. 888 plans to launch a SI Sportsbook in Virginia soon. There is no launch date for Betway at this time.
In its first year of sports betting, Virginia witnessed a lot of changes among operators.
Soon after its launch in Virginia, BetRivers announced it would release an upgraded version of its iOS sports betting app, admitting its app was not up to its standards.
“We’re extremely appreciative of the feedback that our players have provided, we’ve listened carefully, and we’re excited that improvements are coming soon to our product,” the company said in an email to bettors in March. “To be honest, our current iOS app in Virginia is not up to the high-quality standards we normally pride ourselves on. However, we wanted to share that next month, we will be releasing an upgraded version of the BetRivers iOS app that will significantly improve your experience.”
In April, Caesars Entertainment completed its $4 billion takeover of sportsbook operator William Hill. As part of that acquisition, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg revealed the company intended to rebrand William Hill as Caesars Sportsbook. Caesars unveiled that rebranded sportsbook Aug 3.
In August, DraftKings and Golden Nugget Online Gaming announced they had entered into a definitive agreement for DraftKings to acquire Golden Nugget Online Gaming in an all-stock transaction that has an implied equity value of approximately $1.56 billion.
“The acquisition will enable DraftKings to leverage Golden Nugget’s well-known brand, iGaming product experience and existing combined database of more than five million customers,” DraftKings said in a news release.
First-Year Virginia Handle Tops $2.7 Billion
Virginia bettors wagered more than $2.7 billion in the first year of sports betting, according to the Virginia Lottery.
The Virginia Lottery released its report on sports wagering activity for the month of November — the 10th full month of reporting since legal sports betting launched in Virginia — in late December.
For the month of November, Virginians wagered $402 million, following the record-setting month of October that handled $427 million. November wagering represented the second-highest month since the inception of sports betting in Virginia. July stands as the lowest handle for the year, totaling $161 million.
In 2021, FanDuel maintained top shareholder status each month in Virginia's sports betting market.
“Clearly bringing sports betting out of the shadows has benefited our commonwealth so we can fund our priorities such as school construction and modernizing our education system," Sen. McPike said in a statement at the end of the year.
“We’ve been able to bring in $18,145,619.69 to the General Fund and $465,272.30 to the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund Allocation from over 10 licensed operators,” McPike said. “While we don’t have the December revenue reports yet, we already know that these revenues have largely contributed to the historic surplus revenue records in the past five months while we continue to face a global pandemic.”