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Both the House and Senate now have legislation that seeks to legalize wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events. The House began debating the issue early last year.
The new year begins with identical bills filed in the two chambers of the legislature.
S 106 is a bipartisan Senate proposal sponsored by Sen. Stephen Baldwin and Sen. Michael Maroney. It is based on the language from H 2751, the original bill from the House. That one has been around since March of last year, reintroduced from last year’s session.
Here’s what the two bills are trying to do:
H 2751 stalled in 2017, but lead sponsor Del. Shawn Fluharty expressed optimism that it would move forward this year. The bill is not terribly long, and leaves rules for sports betting to the lottery commission.
Both bills begin 2018 in the Judiciary Committee of their respective chambers. After that, they’ll go to Finance.
Fluharty’s bill was the spark in 2017. Although it didn’t make any progress, it did begin a serious conversation regarding sports betting within the WV statehouse.
Last fall, the Lottery Commission paid six figures for a comprehensive study on the issue. Director Alan Larrick said the state was going to be well-informed before it proceeded.
“If we’re given the power to go forward with sports gaming, we want to be ready to go forward with as much knowledge and information as we can possibly get,” he said.
The study estimated that WV would realize at least $34 million in yearly revenue from a legal sports betting industry.
Of course, any discussion of sports betting is framed by the federal ban and the status of the New Jersey sports betting case. Single-game wagering is still illegal outside of Nevada, but New Jersey is challenging that law right now. The US Supreme Court will decide the case in the first half of 2018.
As such, WV’s bills contain the same caveat as most others. The state will only proceed with sports betting if federal law changes to allow it.
The winds are definitely pushing the sails forward in West Virginia. Lawmakers seem to be on the same page, and the path to legalization is less complicated than in some other places. The state already has a lottery program and a land-based casino industry with no tribal gaming interests. And the attorney general has opined favorably on both daily fantasy sports and sports betting in the past.
Last year’s bill was basically positioning an effort for 2018. With the possibility that New Jersey will win its SCOTUS case, the odds appear good that West Virginia will join the list of states that could be able to offer legal sports betting.