RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- With all eyes on college basketball, betting on in-state teams remains out of bounds in Virginia. A push to change that was recently rejected in the General Assembly as reports of problem gambling rise.
In 2020, state lawmakers authorized sports betting on professional sports teams and out-of-state college teams.
When it comes to March Madness this year, Virginians were able to watch in-state college teams compete but they couldn’t place a wager on them–at least not legally. Lawmakers carved out these schools upon request from university leadership.
“They were very passionate that it puts their students and their student body in an awkward position to have students betting on other students,” Del. David Bulova (D-Fairfax) said during a committee meeting last month. “This is making sure that we’re not going ahead and putting our seal of approval on that kind of activity.”
A bill introduced in the 2022 session by Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) would’ve allowed Virginians to start betting on in-state college teams. Mason said it would’ve continued to ban proposition betting based on an individual player’s performance.
It was shot down by the House General Laws Committee on a bipartisan vote of 18-4.
“I believe people are looking at this in the wrong manner. They’re looking at this as if you can influence a student athlete because they happen to be in Virginia,” Mason said. “I think it’s more of a 1950’s view of gaming that is way different than the way it’s operated today.”
Mason said these bets are happening regardless behind closed doors so the question is whether to regulate them.
“We should do this in an above board, traceable, taxable manner for everyone and not have a carve out that continues to lead to the old way of doing things,” Mason said.
However, Dr. Carolyn Hawley, president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, said changing the law could come at a cost.
“When we start making this more available with our college students it normalizes that behavior so what we tend to see with this normalization is more people playing and, if we’re not putting some protective factors in place, that also means that we might be seeing more people developing problems,” Hawley said. “What we see are things such as divorce, bankruptcy, job loss and trauma within families.”
According to VCPG’s most recent annual report, Virginia’s confidential helpline received 718 calls on problem gambling in 2021. That’s a 114% increase since 2020 when the state first legalized sports betting.
The report said sports betting accounted for 15% of calls last year, making it the second most common reason people sought help behind slot machines. Online or app betting was the most cited platform, according to Hawley.
Hawley said they’ve also seen a notable shift as a greater portion of callers are younger men.
“March Madness is our greatest volume of callers to the helpline,” Hawley said. “But we also have more awareness, more advertising during this time…that’s intentional.”
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call this confidential and toll-free helpline at 1.888.532.3500.