WV appears that it will be the first state to enact a sports betting law in 2018
Legal Sports Report

West Virginia Sports Betting Bill Nears Finish Line, Clears Another Hurdle

WV sports betting hurdle

sports betting bill continues to make quick progress through the West Virginia legislature.

On Monday evening, the House Finance Committee considered S 415 for the first time.

The bill, which originated in the Senate, seeks to legalize sports betting in West Virginia under the oversight of the state Lottery Commission. The House committee advanced an amended bill onto the floor, where another ‘yes’ vote would seemingly all but ensure its passage.

The Senate already passed S 415 last week following some scrutiny from its own Finance Committee.

WV sports betting bill so far

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Ryan Ferns with the support of the lottery. Ferns introduced the WV sports betting bill on Jan. 29, so things are moving along fairly quickly in comparison to other states.

Here’s what the bill does, in short:

  • Allows for the state’s five gaming facilities to offer sports betting
  • Allows wagering on both pro and collegiate sporting events
  • Authorizes online and/or mobile wagering
  • Imposes a $100,000 licensing fee and taxes gross revenue at ten percent

The Senate bill cleared the Judiciary and Finance committees with one amendment. The full Senate then voted on the bill last Tuesday, after which it was sent to the House.

Lawmakers in the lower chamber were already preparing to receive it, having held a preliminary hearing on the topic last Monday.

Arguments in House Finance hearing

During Monday’s hearing, delegates picked over the specifics for more than 90 minutes. There was confusion regarding the financial points, in particular, including the potential revenue from sports betting and the distribution structure for those funds.

The lottery’s chief accountant, Paul Barnette, cleared up the confusion. Since the state expects to see $1 billion in wagers in the first year, he laid out some easy math.

  • $1 billion is wagered in the first year.
  • $950 million is returned to winning bettors.
  • $50 million (“5 percent hold”) is retained by sportsbooks.

Of that:

  • Operator keeps $45 million (90 percent).
  • State gets $5 million (10 percent), deposited into sports wagering fund.
    • $4.25 million (85 percent) goes to lottery for disbursement.
    • $0.75 million (15 percent) set aside to cover administrative expenses.

Growth ahead?

Barnette said the Lottery expects the industry to increase in size four or five times over in the next few years, too. He cited the prohibitive tax rates levied on Pennsylvania sports betting as something to be avoided in West Virginia.

Lawmakers continued to barrage the commission with questions surrounding mobile betting, consumer safeguards and the potential effect on land-based casinos. One thing conspicuous in its absence? The integrity fees sought by professional sports leagues were never mentioned.

Proposed amendments to omit online wagering and individual collegiate prop betting were raised and dismissed, though.

Mobile wagering could be responsible for about two-thirds of sports betting revenue, so that is a key inclusion.

As for collegiate betting, lottery representatives argued that product coverage and quality are paramount when trying to compete with illegal bookmakers. March Madness is a huge draw for bettors, and collegiate athletics are especially big in West Virginia. The proposed amendment was turned aside.

There was a small amendment to a definition, however, which will add one more step to the process of passage.

Next steps for WV sports betting bill

The bill will now head onto the House floor for a vote by the full chamber. If it’s passed as amended, it will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. Then, if the Senate concurs with the amendments, the bill goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The margin of the Senate’s first passage bodes well for the second round; the bill initially cleared by a count of 25-9.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.