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West Virginia is tantalizingly close to having a law that legalizes sports betting in the state.
Both chambers of the state legislature have signed off on the proposal, becoming the first state legislature to accomplish that feat in 2018.
The House passed the bill by a 77-22 margin during Friday’s session in Charleston, voting on the heels of brisk progress through committees. The Senate, where the bill originated, passed it last week.
It passed despite a last-ditch attempt from Major League Baseball, which has been lobbying for its preferred version of the bill along with the NBA. It wants a tax on one percent of all wagers — which it is calling an “integrity fee” — paid directly to pro sports leagues:
Ironically, during House debate on sports betting bill, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was on a conference call w/ https://t.co/0dOtN7erog. media urging its defeat unless pro sports get a cut of the action via an "integrity fee."
— Phil Kabler (@PhilKabler) March 2, 2018
The Senate concurred on House amendments on Saturday morning. That sends it to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice for his signature. He is expected to sign the WV sports betting bill into law.
Manfred also indicated to the media that he would ask the governor to veto the bill. Even if a veto comes, the majorities in both the Senate and the House would be able to override a veto.
The bill that passed is numbered S 415 and labeled as the West Virginia Lottery Sports Wagering Act. It’s one of several related bills introduced in WV during the last few months.
This one was authored at the behest of the Lottery Commission, who will oversee WV sports betting. It’s sponsored by Sen. Ryan Ferns, among others.
Compared to other states, this bill made quick progress through the WV legislature. Senate committees considered it just two weeks ago, making one small amendment before advancing it along to the floor. The full Senate passed it 25-9 on Feb. 20.
The bill took a similar course through the House, drawing some spirited investigation from lawmakers there. House committees picked the bill apart, put it back together, and sent it to the chamber floor for a vote. It passed there with ease, as well, despite some passionate opposition on the floor.
A 1991 opinion from AG Patrick Morrissey may have helped pave a quick path for this legislation nearly three decades later.
The WV sports betting bill lays out the framework for a regulated industry under the oversight of the Lottery Commission. It allows the state’s five gambling establishments to apply for a license to operate sports betting.
Those five potential licensees are:
Each of those properties will need to apply for a sports betting license at a cost of $100,000 apiece. Licenses are valid for five years and can be renewed for the same fee. If approved, operators will have their sports betting revenue taxed a rate of 10 percent.
Bettors who are at least 21 years old and located in West Virginia will be permitted to wager on collegiate and professional events. Those wagers can be placed either in person or via mobile/internet betting platforms.
Operators also have the duty to monitor their own betting products for suspicious activity.
West Virginia’s sports betting bill is just a couple steps away from becoming law. It requires a concurrence from the Senate, then the governor’s signature to be written into the books. It will remain dormant for now, though, even if signed.
Like most state-based sports betting bills, West Virginia’s contains an activation clause that has not yet been met. Federal law still prohibits most states from offering sports betting, even those that have passed laws within their own borders.
New Jersey is challenging that federal ban, though, with the US Supreme Court set to render a verdict during the next few months. Barring a federal piece of legislation in the meantime, the Court would need to broadly strike down PASPA in order for WV’s law to take effect. A decision in the case could come as soon as Monday.
Should that ban be reversed, states will be permitted to move forward at their own discretion. For West Virginia, that means the lottery commission will have to formalize the regulatory framework and get to work on fielding applications.
The state expects to realize at least $5 million in revenue within the first year of legal sports betting.