(NBC12)

Virginia received more than two dozen applications for mobile sports betting permits from companies interested in a piece of the state’s growing gambling market.

But the Virginia Lottery is refusing to name the companies that applied, citing a public-records exemption the agency claims allows it to withhold information related to “investigations” of applicants or licensees.

“The names of specific applicants will not be publicly released or acknowledged,” the Lottery said in a news release announcing it had received 25 sports betting applications last month. In response to follow-up questions, a Lottery spokesman said successful applicants will be identified when the licenses are awarded. But it wasn’t clear if the state will ever release a full list of applicants.

Big-name companies like DraftKings, FanDuel and Penn National Gaming, affiliated with Barstool Sports, and major casino operators have already shown interest in Virginia’s sports betting industry and may be among the applicants.

The licensing investigations exemption to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act would allow regulators to conceal information uncovered about the inner workings of private companies. But the Lottery appears to be interpreting it to mean they don’t have to say who they’re vetting for a limited supply of potentially lucrative state-issued licenses.

Before app-based sports betting expected to go online early next year, the Lottery will award  four to 12 permits. According to the Lottery, the winners “will be selected on a number of factors, including their past experience and success with sports betting in the United States, their efforts to solicit minority investors and the number of new jobs and tax revenues they expect to generate in the commonwealth.”

“The high level of interest by national and international sports betting operators validates Virginia’s efforts to strike an appropriate and responsible balance in its regulatory program for legalized sports betting,” Lottery Executive Director Kevin Hall said in the release. “We are confident that the deliberative review process we are undergoing now will result in a successful program that protects consumers, athletes and taxpayers.”

The secrecy around sports betting is similar to how Virginia officials handled the state’s first batch of medical cannabis licenses. The Virginia Board of Pharmacy treated the 51 applications it received for five cannabis licenses as medical licensing records, which allowed them to be kept secret even after the board named the winners.

The Virginia General Assembly voted to legalize sports betting earlier this year, and the Lottery has since been setting up a system to regulate and tax the new industry. Residents of four cities — Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk — also just voted to allow casinos in their communities.

Officials have estimated legalized sports betting in Virginia will generate up to $55 million in state tax revenue per year.