Let Virginians bet on their teams

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The wisdom of Virginia’s plunge into legalized sports betting a couple of years ago is debatable, with valid points by both supporters and critics. The new revenue flowing into state coffers is unquestionably helpful when lawmakers are funding essential services like schools and highways, but the societal costs of addictive gambling are substantial, if harder to measure.

Downright silly, though, is the refusal by state legislators, having already rolled the dice on sports betting, to allow wagers on Virginia college teams.

As Kaitlyn Fulmore of the student-run Capital News Service at Virginia Commonwealth University reports, Six Virginia men’s and women’s basketball teams made it into March Madness, but state law prevents fans and bettors from placing wagers on their favorite in-state college teams.”

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A Virginia resident can bet on Duke to win or lose, but not Longwood or Norfolk State? Incredible.

Fulmore reports that lawmakers attempted to change the law with Senate Bill 576 by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. The bill was approved by the Senate with bipartisan support, but died in the House General Laws Committee.

Supporters of the ban foolishly believe they are preventing the shady practice of gamblers “fixing” a game’s outcome by paying a referee or player under the table, pretending, we suppose, that the scoundrels who engage in such activity pay any attention to state lines.

A bettor wanting to improperly influence the outcome of a game can easily place his wager through an offshore sportsbook or simply visit a neighboring state. And his access to college athletes is easier than ever, thanks to social media and private messaging apps.

“There’s so many ways to wager right now on colleges that carving them out from Virginia sportsbooks doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense,” Dustin Gouker, an analyst for the U.S. sports betting and sports fantasy news website Legal Sports Report, told VCU’s Fulmore.

We agree. If anything, banning wagers on in-state schools encourages underground activity rather than curbs it.

And the notion that gambling addiction is less of a problem if people can’t bet on their favorite Virginia teams is equally naive. Virginians have wagered more than $1 billion since sports betting became legal in January 2021. Put another way, the horse is out of the gate.