West Virginia’s Sports Betting Attempts Continue

West Virginia is one of the few places outside Nevada to make a strong push for iGaming. Now, the state is refocusing on sports betting.

West Virginia appreciates its reputation for a trend-setter. Take WV’s history with gambling legislation and you will see what success looks like. The state is now looking to reapply the same dedication and commitment to other segments, including poker and sports betting.

With wagering on sports contents in the focus, House Bill 2934 had an important hurdle to clear and it did. H 2934 is safely beyond the House Judiciary Committee and awaits new tests ahead.

However, can the bill garner the necessary support to successfully jump the legal hoops before this year’s session ends come to an end early in March? It’s a toss-up, but H 2934 has all the trappings of a winner.

Understanding H 2934 in Full

The Bill is one of the most ambitious attempts to bring sports betting to fore in WV. It has been cleverly designed to include critics in the bill by offering very juicy windfall for the state’s coffers.

In its current form, H 2934 offers both land-based and online wagering, which could potentially bring in up to $200 million for the state by 2020. On the one hand, this seems a little rushed-up, given how operators would barely have time to adapt and launch their businesses.

However, the bill’s author, Delegate Jason Barrett, feels confident in the legislation’s chances of success. The stipulated $200 million isn’t such an impossible figure, given that a single license will be going for $10 million, rates only rivalled by Pennsylvania, which is on its way to developing poker as well as sports betting opportunities.

In essence, the bill will expect $100,000 renewal fee every five years for all land-based operators. Additional $100,000 will be paid yearly by any gaming business that wants to operate online, including a $250,000 initial license cost.

What’s Changed in the House Judiciary Committee

There are at least two distinct reasons why the latest developments in the House Judiciary Committee matter. First, the Committee’s endorsement is a signal to others that WV has the momentum to build and expand beyond casino gambling.

Secondly, the Committee saw fit to raise the initially proposed tax of 10% to 15% from Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR). The bill will remain unchanged in all major other aspects, though, with the Committing giving the go-ahead.

Setting Up the Sports Betting Industry

The new bill is a spot of good news. The framework established by Mr. Barrett will give a slight privilege to four established operators, including:

  • Hollywood Casino
  • Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino
  • Delaware North’s in Nitro and Wheeling

These are the present establishments that offer gambling activities that can also apply for sports betting activities. However, this could soon change. WV’s population is one million short of Nevada’s, but the state has a well-documented history with gambling, even if not as many venues where people can play.

While any new businesses will need to prove themselves in the months to come, should the bill pass, people working in the industry will also have to obtain a vocational license that will cost $100. The licenses will be paid for by the operator, which will make it easier or job-seekers to start in the industry.

The idea of introducing licenses and applying them to individuals might give more accountability to managers, for example, though it can also get a person stuck between corporate interest and legislation.

Other Attempts to Legalize Sports Betting in WV

Though H 2934 is the most advance piece of legislation to date, there have been other attempts to bring the industry up to speed and aligned with states such as Nevada.

Representatives Shawn Fluharty and Joe Canestraro introduce their own suggestion of what the sports betting future of WV should look like in January. Their proposal, entitled HB 2178, which is again forged in the spirit of partnership between states to increase the overall liquidity.

HB 2178 – Any Likelier to Pass?

HB 2178 is little different that the current H 2934. The licenses are nominal compared to the most advanced bill, but there are other interesting takeaways here such as a clear focus on online poker and share-liquidity schemes with other states.

Even the current bill wants to cooperate with states and introduce cross-border betting, which can be a little difficult to pull off. The Department of Justice attorneys are expected to start enforcing the latest interpretation of the Wire Act as early as Mach.

At the beginning of the year the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reversed its stance on online gambling and sports betting, deeming any online transaction illegal. Without the evidence to support it, DOJ has rendered a strenuous judgement.

However, given WV’s determination to feature online sports betting and cross-state betting in the text in two independent legislations means one thing alone – the Opinion is unlikely to withstand legal challenge.

Reasons to Worry?

It could be argued, though, that the latest Opinion is the fruit of lobbyism and to an extent – cronyism. The DOJ didn’t rule against the Opinion based on facts, it did so purely out of gathering a number of like-minded and anti-gambling politicians.

It’s worth noting, though, that all opposition has been directed specifically at online gambling as opposed to land-based venues.

What does the DOJ act mean for WV? At this point, nothing much. WV is far from clearing the legal hurdle. Even if it manages to do so ahead of the March legislation session closure, it will still take it time to roll out its activities.

Plus, WV is not obliged to enforce the online betting provision, although by the time it gets to this point, it would be able to decided based on the current legislation. New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are already gearing up to dispute DOJ’s opinion.

It’s a bumpy ride ahead. Meanwhile, WV would do best to focus on making the legal cut.

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