[toc]West Virginia continues to emerge as a possible early adopter of legal sports betting in the US.
According to The Exponent Telegram, the state lottery and casino executives met this week at Wheeling Island Casino to discuss the results of a state-focused sports betting study.
Backstory in West Virginia
The sports betting conversation escalated in 2016 as legislators proposed the state’s first daily fantasy sports bill. The attorney general provided a legal opinion on the matter, as often happens when states consider groundbreaking legislation.
West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey gave a favorable summary. According to Morrisey, state law does not make fantasy games illegal provided their outcomes are not “predominantly determined by chance.”
Although the opinion was centered around DFS, it touched on the legality of sports betting, too. Morrisey cited the words of former AG Robert Tompkins, who was asked to look at the issue in 1991:
Those who bet on sports, just as those who bet on horse and dog racing, usually take into consideration past records, who has the home field advantage, and a myriad of other factors that may influence the outcome of the event…
Furthermore, statistics and other materials pertinent to sporting events are readily available for those who wish to study them and then place an informed bet using reason and judgment. The person making the bet is utilizing his knowledge about the sporting activity in order to enhance his chances of winning. This is the employment of skill.
Skill in sports betting
Although he didn’t provide any insight of his own, Morrisey did concur with Tompkins’ opinion.
“We thus echo a previous attorney general, who opined that betting on sports is not something predominantly determined by chance, but rather by skill.”
It was just a corollary to a DFS opinion. But Morrisey’s train of thought carried the idea to its next logical step. Neither DFS nor sports betting outcomes are based predominantly on chance. So neither are prohibited under West Virginia law.
Single-game sports betting has been federally illegal outside of Nevada since the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992. New Jersey is in the process of challenging that law in the US Supreme Court.
State lottery commissions sports betting study
Last month, the West Virginia Lottery paid six figures for a study regarding sports betting.
Director Alan Larrick cited the need to “review opportunities and potential economic impact of implementing sports betting and other forms of internet gaming in West Virginia.” He called the move “strictly educational” as the state considers the issue.
Eilers & Krejcik carried out the study, and the stakeholders convened this week in the capital to discuss. Eilers’ DJ Leary forecast the market in West Virginia at between $34 million and $78 million, according to The Exponent Telegram.
Taking a stand with New Jersey
West Virginia’s interest in sports betting is growing as the state looks to shore up its gaming industry. While New Jersey is at the forefront of the challenge to PASPA, West Virginia is taking on a significant supporting role.
Morrisey led the way on two separate amicus briefs that have been filed in the NJ sports betting case. Just under two dozen co-signed the briefs, indicating that they stand behind New Jersey’s efforts to challenge PASPA.
Pennsylvania was not among that group, but it’s taking some big strides of its own. Just this week, both houses of the PA legislature passed a sports betting bill as part of an expansive gaming package. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law.
Sports betting laws can serve as placeholders in anticipation of movement at the federal level. That could happen as early as 2018, with the right verdict from the Supreme Court. Both Connecticut and Mississippi have recently started taking their own steps in that direction.
What’s next on WV sports betting?
West Virginia is making moves, too. Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced a sports betting bill into the state’s House this past March. That bill did not advance in the legislature, but there is some cause for optimism in 2018.
Fluharty told LSR that a “bill is expected to move” during the next session.