Virginia sees big tax bump from sports betting and casinos

With $5.1B in annual wagers, Virginia sports betting revenue exceeds projections

By: - September 20, 2023 3:11 pm

Virginia Lottery offices in Richmond, Va. Parker Michels-Boyce for The Virginia Mercury

Virginia is collecting more tax revenue from sports betting and casinos than fiscal analysts predicted four years ago when the state was considering legalizing more types of gambling.

Taxes from sports betting more than doubled in fiscal year 2023, according to Virginia Lottery figures presented Tuesday, jumping to $67 million from $27 million the prior year. Four years ago, a state gambling study predicted Virginia could see up to $55 million in annual tax revenue from sports betting once the industry was “fully developed.”

The revenue increase was driven largely by a recent tax policy change that prevented established sports betting companies like FanDuel and DraftKings from deducting the cost of free bet promotions and other wagering bonuses from their state tax bill. However, the total amount Virginians wagered on sports betting also grew, rising from roughly $4.2 billion in fiscal year 2022 to $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2023. 

Virginia lawmakers voted to legalize sports betting in 2020, and digital sports betting platforms went live in the state in early 2021. 

“You can see pretty clearly a sharp growth trend in collections for the first three years,” former Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kelly Gee said Tuesday during a presentation to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

A chart from a recent Virginia Lottery presentation shows the steady rise in tax revenues from sports betting. (Virginia Lottery)

An appointee of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Gee has led the Lottery since last summer but is in the process of transitioning to a new role in the Youngkin administration as secretary of the commonwealth.

Virginia’s still-under-construction casino industry also appears to be outperforming expectations in its early stages, according to Lottery figures, even though several of the casinos are operating in temporary locations while their bigger facilities are being built.

The temporary Hard Rock Casino in Bristol, which opened in July 2022, saw $157 million in net gambling revenue in its first year of operation, ahead of the $130 million the state study projected for a fully established casino. That produced almost $26 million in tax money split between local governments and a state fund dedicated to school construction and upgrades.

“It’s impossible to know if this activity will continue at this rate,” Gee said. “But it’s an impressive start by all measures.”

Rivers Casino Portsmouth, which opened in January and was projected to generate $167 million in annual gambling revenue, had already seen $120 million in net revenue by June, when the state’s budget year ends. The Portsmouth facility produced roughly $17.9 million in tax revenue.

The most recently opened temporary Caesars casino in Danville saw $31 million in gambling revenue in May and June alone. The 2019 state study projected a Danville casino would produce $190 million in annual gambling revenue.

“I would collectively say that all three are performing a little better than expected,” Gee said.

Another casino is in the works for Norfolk, and voters in Richmond are being asked to approve a casino project for a second time this fall after an initial ballot referendum failed in 2021.

Noting the more than $8 million the Richmond casino developer is putting behind the campaign to get voters to say yes to the project, Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, said Tuesday that he fears the state will inevitably see bigger problems with gambling addiction that will cost more money for behavioral health officials to address.

“I would be interested in what the per-individual cost is of this intervention,” Norment said.

As Virginia has expanded gambling, policymakers have established rules setting aside some of the revenue to assist people who develop gambling problems. In fiscal year 2023, nearly $2.6 million was allocated to problem gambling resources, with much of the money going to local community services boards that already handle addiction and other mental health issues.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Nelson Smith said the state believes roughly 2% of Virginia’s population could be impacted by problem gambling.

“There’s probably a lot more Virginians that are out there that are not seeking help,” Smith said.


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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.