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Virginia's first sports bet was a loser, but 'LeBron special' saves the day for gamblers

Virginia's first sports bet was a loser, but 'LeBron special' saves the day for gamblers

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The first day of sports gambling in Virginia is in the books, with bettors coming out ahead thanks to some generosity by the house.

FanDuel, which received the first license from the Virginia Lottery, offered customers the opportunity to wager up to $50 on whether LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two best players in the NBA, would score at least 1 point in their matchup on Thursday night.

There was no catch — it was a bet drawn up purely to give customers a winning feeling on the first night of operation (Antetokounmpo scored the game’s first basket, ending any suspense).

The company hopes the loss is a long-term win, as it works to gobble up market share before the expected entrance of as many as 11 other providers in the coming weeks.

The first legal wager in Virginia was placed by Richmonder Taylor Morris, who bet on the Golden State Warriors to defeat the New York Knicks — in a surprise, the Knicks ended up winning.

“Unfortunately, my other claim to fame is I placed the first losing bet,” he said.

Morris said he was so thrilled to have legal wagering available, he bet on the first games that were played once the site went live — EuroLeague basketball matchups.

“I didn’t even know that existed,” he said with a laugh.

He cashed an early winner by taking Olimpia Milano over Bayern Munich.

Morris is a longtime UVA fan, and said his pro sports interests mostly include following the Wahoos in the NBA — a growing group that includes Joe Harris, De’Andre Hunter and Malcolm Brogdon.

But for now, gambling on Virginia college games remains illegal.

FanDuel CMO Mike Raffensperger said he believes Virginia will ultimately be a successful market because it emulated one of the early states that has enjoyed a financial windfall, New Jersey.

Raffensperger said three key things are important to providers: Allowing customers to sign up online, a state tax rate that encourages growth, and a competitive marketplace.

“We actually want to be in a marketplace with other companies,” he said. “It’s good for us, and keeps us on our toes.”

Washington, D.C., approved single-vendor sports betting, where the D.C. Lottery is the only company allowed to take bets. That system has fallen well short of revenue projections, as customers have complained about a poorly designed app and odds that aren’t nearly as good as can be found in other markets.

In Virginia, the state will take about 15% of net winnings. The market is estimated to be worth about $400 million a year, meaning the state could stand to claim $60 million in tax revenues annually.

FanDuel is expected to be the only operator licensed to take bets this weekend, with a full sports slate that includes UFC fighting and NFL playoff games. However, the Lottery expects to welcome other companies into the market before the Super Bowl.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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