West Virginia lawmakers have moved forward early in the 2018 legislative session with a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Mountain State. State senators Stephen Baldwin (D-10th District) and Mike Maroney (R-District 02) introduced the bill last week — SB 106 — which is identical to HB 2751 sponsored by House Delegate Shawn Fluharty in March 2017.
Last year HB 2751 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and then Finance committee. The measure died in committee, but has served as the impetus for an examination of sports betting in the state. In fact State Lottery Commission Director Alan Larrick allocated $160,000 for a sports betting impact report last September to “review opportunities and potential economic impact of implementing sports betting and other forms of internet gaming in West Virginia,” Larrick told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
West Virginia Lawmakers Revisit and Renew Push for Legal Sports Betting As More States Get in Line in Anticipation of Lifting of Federal Ban
SB 106 like HB 2751 would authorize the State Lottery Commission to promulgate sports betting rules and regulations; establish a special revenue account in connection with sports betting; and authorize a tax on bets and other fees. It says in part:
Therefore, by enactment of this law, the Legislature intends to create a mechanism to enable the West Virginia Lottery Commission to authorize and regulate sports betting at our state casino gaming facilities upon removal of federal restrictions prohibiting sports betting in West Virginia.
The law goes a bit further than other bills cropping up across the country, by declaring that the “U.S. Congress has no power to prevent state governments from authorizing sports betting as a form of gaming,” and therefore that the state legislature may “proceed with legalizing sports pool betting pursuant to this article.”
But despite that declaration, the law appears contingent upon the removal of federal restrictions prohibiting sports betting in West Virginia, i.e. the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The Supreme Court of the United States is currently weighing constitutionality of PASPA in the case Christie v NCAA.
West Virginia is an active participant in the case involving New Jersey and the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA, having filed a brief asking the high court to accept New Jersey’s petition. Later West Virginia led a coalition of 20 states supporting New Jersey with arguments rooted in states’ rights versus federal overreach.
West Virginia currently has six land-based casinos, four of them bordering Ohio in the northern panhandle and two right near Virginia, which has no casinos at all. The opportunity is there to bring in entertainment dollars from those neighbors.
In a conversation with SportsHandle in December 2017, Fluharty expressed optimism for the introduction and passage of a bill such as SB 106 in the session beginning this January. Said Fluharty:
“People are already gambling. Everybody and their mother is basically gambling at this point on sports. But yet we’re not making a single penny off of it at the state level or at the federal level. Why would we not take advantage of this opportunity to regulate something that’s already taking place? Therefore making it safer and more productive, and I think at the same time shrinking the black market, deriving revenue from it, without raising anybody’s taxes.”
And the Delegate has been a very outspoken champion for the measure.
Imagine the revenue the Northern Panhandle and West Virginia could make if people could legally bet on the NFL Playoffs / Steelers today. #wvpol #sportsbetting #JAXvsPIT
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) January 14, 2018
Our state must compete in today's economy. Failing to move on #sportsbetting this session will cost us jobs and revenue. No more being the last to act, WV! #wvpol https://t.co/7iIXwY1Vp4
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) January 9, 2018
SB 106 is now onto the Committee on the Judiciary, and then will go to the Committee on Finance. Given the national activity on the sports betting legislation and the bipartisan support behind SB 106, as well as the fact that West Virginia’s governor Jim Justice owns The Greenbrier, which contains a casino, passage appears likely.
“I think the right playmakers are involved in West Virginia now to say that we need to do this now” Fluharty said. “Our governor will sign the legislation. He’s certainly not going to oppose it.”