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Virginia college sports betting proposal off the books for another year

Scott Stadium during the fourth quarter of the JMU vs. UVA football game on Sep. 9, 2023. Photo by Ryan Carpenter/VCU Capital News Service.
Scott Stadium during the fourth quarter of the JMU vs. UVA football game on Sep. 9, 2023. Photo by Ryan Carpenter/VCU Capital News Service.

Lawmakers struck out again with a proposal to allow betting on Virginia college sports teams. 

Virginia law since 2021 has allowed sports betting through casinos and online sports books like FanDuel and BetMGM, with the exception of wagers on state youth and college sports.

This story was reported and written by our media partner Capital News Service

Some legislators have gone to bat to change the law. Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, sponsored Senate Bill 124 this session; his second attempt to get the law off the bench. He introduced a similar measure in 2022, as a delegate. 

His bill had committee support this year but was continued to 2025 once it hit the Senate money committee. There was no associated fiscal cost to the state. 

The legislation could help eliminate illegal betting in Virginia and would create consistency, VanValkenburg said during the bill’s committee hearing. The change would bring in tax dollars for the state but also make it safer for bettors.

Even the small amount of extra games added by the bill could contribute to state coffers, according to Brendan Dwyer, director of research and distance learning at VCU’s Center for Sports Leadership. Casual bettors are really where the sports books make their money, he said.

A Virginia college sports team fan would have a chance to turn something they are already invested in into a cash gain, according to Dwyer.

“How casual bettors view betting is when they watch games, they want additional action,” Dwyer said.

There is concern over the impact on younger demographics as online sports betting becomes more popular. 

Males ages 18-24 are most at risk because of their “inability to regulate their decision-making,” Dwyer said.

There is also concern about how athletic departments, coaches and student athletes may experience unintended consequences if the state legalized Virginia college sports betting.

There is only a very slight risk that players would make bets on their own sporting events, Dwyer said. 

NCAA bylaws prohibit coaches or players from betting on college sports. 

There have been instances in the past year in which players and coaches have gotten in trouble for sports betting. Most prominently was the firing of the University of Alabama’s head baseball coach Brad Bohannon following a gambling scandal where he passed information to someone placing a large bet. 

Cam Lane is a first-year assistant baseball coach at the University of Lynchburg. He believes violations would be a bigger possibility at a larger, Division I program and not as much of a concern at the Division III university.

“I think the effects at Lynchburg would be somewhat minimal,” Lane said.

The biggest problem could be bettors promising athletes large amounts of money to sway the game in a certain favor, Lane said.

“Who’s to say someone who is a million-dollar sports bettor wouldn’t offer my starting pitcher a million dollars to throw a game,” Lane said. 

Jason Wade is a guard for the Old Dominion University basketball team. It is his sixth year with the program. 

“This year was probably the most it has been talked about,” Wade said. “Coaches set us down at the beginning … and they tell us it’s against NCAA regulations to bet on any type of sports where you can get paid or get benefits from.”

Sports betting could put the spotlight and pressure on Virginia teams in a different way. 

A bettor confronted Wade and his team after they lost in the second round of their conference tournament last season because he had a prop bet on an ODU player that he could not cash out.

“That was really the only in-person altercation that I have seen,” Wade said. “Of course, I’ve seen stuff on Twitter and Instagram of people like coming at athletes.”

Player safety might be a bigger concern if more people start betting on college sports, according to Wade. Student-athletes are more accessible than professional athletes, so there is a larger risk of confrontations. 

“We travel commercially, so a lot of people see us, they recognize us,” Wade said. “If they’re placing sports bets on us, we don’t have security around us … so they can easily come up and threaten you or confront you about them losing money because of you.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.