Led by West Virginia Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio County) on Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 415 to legalize sports betting in the state at its existing casinos and racetracks. (Note: A summary of main points appears below.)
Known as the West Virginia Lottery Sports Wagering Act (the “Act”), the West Virginia Lottery Commission (“Commission”) has been a driving force for the drafting and passage of such legislation, and would be tasked with the handling licensure, regulation and administrative work described in the bill.
“It is clear that sports betting now has full bipartisan support,” said House Delegate Shawn Fluharty, also of Ohio County, who sponsored a sports betting bill in 2017 that died in committee. “I’ve worked with the West Virginia Lottery to get a comprehensive piece of legislation that is expected to generate $34 million in its first year — all without raising taxes or fees on West Virginians.”
The West Virginia Lottery Sports Wagering Act Would Bring Legal Sports Betting to West Virginia at Its Five Existing Casinos-Racetracks, And Online, If/When the Federal Ban Is Lifted
Fluharty told the Wheeling News-Register that similar legislation will be forthcoming in the House later this week.
Here’s the main points in SB 415:
1. Where to wager: The Act would limit sports wagering to existing racetrack casinos and the casino in a historic resort hotel. That means: the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson, and the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, near Charleston, plus the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, which is owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
2. The tax rate: Dubbed a “privilege tax,” SB 415 levies a 10% tax on operators’ adjusted gross sports wagering revenue. That’s a few points higher than the roughly 6.75% imposed in Nevada, a shade higher than the 9.25% on the table in Indiana, and consistent with the roughly 8-10% that New Jersey is considering.
3. Which games: The bill allows betting on professional and collegiate sports contests.
4. Patrons must be: 21 year olds and up.
5. Online wagering, too: SB 415 reads: “A West Virginia Lottery sports wagering license authorizes the operation of West Virginia Lottery sports wagering at locations and any mobile application or other digital platforms approved by the commission.”
The mechanisms of the mobile component are not yet clear but what’s certain is that (a) sports betting on mobile devices is becoming increasingly popular in Nevada and internationally, and such options are expected from customers; and (b) West Virginia is pretty rural and its five casinos are on located near the perimeter of the state, or in other words, an inconvenient or long drive away. The mechanisms of how patrons would register in person and/or via mobile devices appears to be an item that the Commission would have to figure out, among some other nuances. (Note: patrons using mobile apps would have to be located in-state.)
6. Licensure cost for the operators: Cost of the license for the gaming facility would be $250,000 for the application fee, good for five years, renewable every five years thereafter for $100,000.
Waiting for SCOTUS
As in all of the states that have passed or are close to passing sports betting measures, they’ve got an eye the Supreme Court of the United States, which will rule on the constitutionality of the 1992 federal law — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) — no later than June.
New Jersey has long fought with the NCAA and major pro sports leagues over sports betting and in 2017 the high court took up its case, hearing oral argument in December. West Virginia led a 20-state briefing in the Supreme Court in support of New Jersey.
“We hope to have a plan in West Virginia to take advantage of being first in the market, as we were with [racetrack] video lottery and table games” said attorney Danielle Boyd of the Lottery Commission, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Two of the state’s five casinos are located in Ohio County in West Virginia’s panhandle, bordering the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Lawmakers see economic opportunity in getting to market early on sports betting and bringing in residents from those neighbors. Some lawmakers also have their eye on putting mobile sportsbooks in Ohio.
“People are already gambling” Fluharty told SportsHandle in December. “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.”