Even the commonwealth’s longstanding fascination with horse racing cannot keep opportunities for betting in Virginia alive. When Virginia’s sole operating race track offering pari-mutuel betting, the Colonial Downs, closed in 2013, that was the death knell for gambling of all sorts in the commonwealth beyond the state lottery.
Thus is 21st-century Virginia caught in a paradox with regard to betting on football: While the dominant metropolitan area in the region, Washington D.C., is among the country’s most liberal regarding vice, Virginia just says no to, likesay, legalization of marijuana. When the D.C. metro area allows legal gambling (and, given NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s bullish views on betting, this is an inevitability), a great many resident Virginians will soon find legal football betting is a short drive away.
Betting in Virginia
Essentially, most of the interesting bits from the history of gambling law in Virginia are all about horse racing, for the state has enjoyed a long love affair with equestrian events in direct inverse proportion to nearly all other forms of betting.
Horse racing began in Virginia shortly after colonists brought horses to Jamestown and other areas in 1609. At first, these were backed by the overarching Virginia Company of London, but by 1750 at least seven major independently-run horse tracks were open and active.
In 1740, the rulers of the Virginia colony codified its first gambling law which allowed for taxation on gambling winnings; this law remained unchanged until 1851, when the law spelled out that the maximum bet to be placed on a horse race should be $20 (the equivalent of nearly $600 today). Such limits led to lots of illegal wagering and numbers games and in turn to Prohibition-like tactics illegalizing gambling of all sorts along with alcohol in the state in 1897.
Exactly 100 years later, pari-mutuel betting was again allowed in the state’s racetracks, but the last of these closed in 2013. Since then, the only notable addendum to Virginia law was to deem betting on daily fantasy football illegal.
Football in Virginia
No city is large enough to support an NFL team, and no rogue professional league has based a team in Virginia; an attempt by the World Football League to place a team in the Baltimore/Washington area ultimately resulted in plans for the Virginia Ambassadors in 1974, but these plans never came to fruition in the league’s two-year existence. Local NFL fandom, like the local viewing market, is centered on the Washington football club.
Among the indoor/arena league football teams once calling Virginia home were the Richmond Speed (2000-2003), Richmond Bandits (2005-2006), Richmond Raiders (2010-2015) and Virignia Badgers (2012). The Richmond Roughriders of the American Arena League began play in 2017, so catch them while you can.
At the college level, the most renowned programs are, in either order, the Virginia Tech Hokies (terrible name) and the Virginia Cavaliers (sweet name). Tech began play in 1892 and first played in a bowl game in 1947, losing in the Sun Bowl against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Another 20 years before they’d see another and only in 1986 would the Hokies earn a win, topping the NC State Wolfpack in the Peach Bowl.
Betting on football in Virginia
As written above, no football betting is allowed in Virginia. The current law regarding daily fantasy sports betting adopted in 2014 requires would-be DFS operators to register with state authorities; those wishing to play DFS will not to check if the chosen operator accepts customers from Virginia.
Meanwhile, the current situation in Virginia regarding all other forms of betting – even down to bingo and at-home poker games (!) – appears pretty bleak, but hope may actually exist: This hope depends on a combination of Democrats in the state legislature and, ironically, the tit-for-tat bipartisanship that is seen as so destructively divisive in America in the late 2010s.
Here’s how it works: The best hope for expansion to gambling law is the rabid automatic rejection of any Republican bill along with the unthinking approval of anything Democrat-sponsored. With Virigina Republicans so rabidly anti-gambling, state Democrats may decide to legalize various forms of sports betting – including betting on football – just because, nyah-nyahs not necessarily included.
Barring a fairly significant Dem win in November 2018 in Virginia, however, we might well see that damn Washington team change its racist name before this commonwealth makes betting on football fully legal.