Sports betting in Virginia is now a reality after the state lottery approved an online sportsbook operated by FanDuel through a partnership with the Washington Football Team.
Meanwhile, two dozen other would-be competitors are still waiting to see if they will receive one of what is expected to be a dozen additional permits to operate online sportsbooks.
FanDuel jumped on the head start it received from the lottery. After receiving approval Wednesday, it was signing up customers in Virginia and taking bets by Thursday afternoon, said Chief Marketing Officer Mike Raffensperger.
The head start is significant; this weekend offers NFL conference championships and a UFC mixed martial-arts bout featuring fan favorite Conor McGregor that makes it among the biggest betting weekends of the year.
Lottery spokesman John Hagerty said FanDuel was approved first because the state law authorizing sports betting requires the lottery to give "substantial and preferred consideration” to applications from major professional sports franchises located in Virginia.
The football team plays in Maryland but has its headquarters and practice facility in Northern Virginia.
Hagerty said approvals for competing sportsbooks are “imminent, and we anticipate more than one sportsbook will be in position to begin accepting legal wagers from Virginians in time for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.”
The agency said in November that it received 25 applications from would-be sportsbooks. The law allows them to approve only 12, with exceptions granted for books like FanDuel that partner with a sports franchise.
The football club did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Raffensperger said the state law that gave the football club preferential treatment among applicants made it a particularly attractive partner. He said FanDuel will further capitalize on the partnership with marketing opportunities using the team's brand.
For now, the sportsbook is attracting new customers with cold hard cash: New customers receive a promotion that allows them to make their first bet of up to $1,000 risk free.
“We think it's a good thing to have an open competitive marketplace,” Raffensperger said. “It keeps us on our toes.”
Virginia is the ninth state where FanDuel offers traditional sports wagering.
The Virginia law allows only for online sports wagering; there will be no brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in the state. The law also bars sportsbooks from accepting wagers on collegiate teams based in Virginia.
The preferential treatment given to the Washington Football Team is coming at a time when many fans are pushing for owner Daniel Snyder to sell the team. In addition to two decades of losing seasons, a dispute between Snyder and the minority owners on the team has revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment, including a $1.6 million settlement paid when Snyder himself was accused.
Snyder has said he did nothing wrong and the settlement was paid because the team's insurer opted to settle. But the team has intervened in a federal lawsuit in Virginia to block public release of details from an investigation that outside lawyer Beth Wilkinson has conducted at the NFL's behest.