What’s going on in West Virginia? Sports betting kicked off with a bang a the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races late last month, and just last week, the FanDuel Sportsbook at The Greenbrier Resort took its first bet. In between, the state’s lottery director inexplicably resigned and now the lottery’s managing general counsel, Danielle Boyd, isn’t immediately responding to inquiries.
And on Monday, acting lottery director Doug Buffington went before the Standing Joint Committee on Finance and fielded questions about the implementation the state’s sports betting law. The lottery rolled out “emergency rules” in order to allow the casinos to open their sportsbooks, but those rules were open to public comment and the lottery must address concerns. The public-comment period ended Sept. 7 and the lottery has yet to respond.
In fact, should it respond in the near future, it will do so without its long-time leader, Alan Harrick, who resigned unexpectedly and Boyd, who has reportedly been forced out of her position by the governor’s office.
Professional Sports Leagues Continue to Push for ‘Integrity Fee’ and Data Rights in WV, Even Though the Law Doesn’t Call for Them.
According to Metro News the professional sports leagues are continuing to hammer the Mountaineer State over certain provisions of its sports betting regulations. Mainly, the leagues now are being forceful about wanting state-licensed sportsbooks to use “official league data.”
In March when West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill legalizing sports betting, the bill did not include any “integrity fee” or royalty, or terms mandating use of league-provided data to grade wagers. In written comments obtained by Metro News, the league spells out their position that sportsbook should purchase league data “on commercially-reasonable terms.”
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Buffington confirmed on Monday that “leagues want the casinos to purchase official game data from the leagues, rather than from third-party providers, and want mandatory cooperation to require casinos to report unusual betting patterns to the leagues.”
But lawmakers have universally rebuffed the idea on integrity fees and “official data” contracts.
“There’s virtually no support in the Legislature to require these entities to enter into these contracts,” Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson said of the casinos. And state lawmakers again quashed the idea of an “integrity fee” at Monday’s Finance meeting.
“These tracks and casinos put their resources on the line to put in place sports gambling,” committee chairman Craig Blair said during the meeting. “To come in and change the game before we come back and say it’s not the will of the Legislature, is irresponsible. … That’s telling to any industry wanting to come to West Virginia that we’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
WV Joint Finance Chairman to Pro Sports Leagues Desire for Integrity Fees: ‘As Long as I’m the Senate Finance Chairman, It’s Not Going to Happen’
When the Hollywood Casino took its first bet, Blair could not have been more clear about the status of an “integrity fee” in West Virginia.
“But there’s another thing that was part of this legislation that didn’t happen. It was called integrity fees. And that’s where people from pro sports, the NFL, the NBA, people like that wanted a cut of what’s going on,” Blair told the Metro News. “They weren’t getting a cut when the bookies were doing it and when it was off shore. And they’re not getting it now. And as long as I’m the Senate Finance chairman, it’s not going to happen.”
In leaving a royalty out of its law, the Mountaineer State was falling in line with Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, all of which have legalized sports betting and don’t pay an integrity fee. Changes to the emergency rules would require legislative approval.
So, again, what’s going on? We don’t know for sure, but it’s been interesting – and vexing – to watch the machinations in West Virginia from afar as the leagues attempt several bites at the apple.
Beyond the fact that state lawmakers keep telling the pro leagues an emphatic “no!” there are multiple conflicts of interest and curious happenings in the state. To wit:
- Governor Jim Justice’s family has an ownership stake in The Greenbrier;
- Immediately after legalizing sports betting, Justice suggested that maybe he would call a special session of the state legislature to revisit paying a royalty to the pro leagues. That never materialized;
- Larry Puccio, who works for Justice, has been named as a lobbyist for the NBA and Major League Baseball as well as for The Greenbrier. He is a member of Justice’s transition team;
- There was a bizarre meeting in May, which Puccio attended, from which reports of shouting matches and “shuttle diplomacy” emerged;
- The day after sports betting went live in West Virginia, then lottery director Alan Larrick resigned with no explanation; and
- It appears that Boyd, the lottery’s main counsel, has been sidelined if not forced out.
So, what’s up next in West Virginia? Right now, that’s anyone’s guess.
Update: Governor Justice on Tuesday appointed John Myers as Director of the West Virginia Lottery. “Myers has been serving as Secretary of Administration for the Justice Administration,” the Governor’s office said in a release. “Prior to that appointment he worked at the West Virginia Lottery from 2008-2017 and was Acting Director from 2015-2017.