Things are finally calming down a little bit for West Virginia sports betting, it appears.
Regulators filed the final version of rules for the new industry this morning, one of the last steps in a process that began more than 18 months ago. According to Jeff Jenkins of WV MetroNews, officials rejected another pitch from sports leagues seeking compensation from operators.
State Lottery Commission rejects comment by professional sports league to include integrity fee for sports betting in legislative rules. Emergency rules passed a few months remain virtually unchanged in final rules okayed today
— Jeff Jenkins (@JeffJenkinsMN) October 3, 2018
Neither the law passed in March nor the emergency rules currently in place include any such fees, but recent turnover at the WV Lottery Commission cast some doubt on the final version.
What happened in the interim rule-making period?
After publishing temporary rules back in August, the lottery fielded public comments for 30 days. That waiting period gave stakeholders a final chance to weigh in on the particulars before regulators set them in stone.
The PGA Tour, NBA and MLB involved themselves in the process from the very beginning, lobbying lawmakers and regulators diligently. They had an ally in Governor Jim Justice, but “Big Jim” and the leagues were shunned at every turn. The leagues used this interim period to make one last pitch for the mandated use of official league data.
The request would have fallen on deaf ears in the previous lotto administration, but a recent staff shakeup created an apparent opening. The former director and lead counsel, two key influencers who stood against integrity fees, are no longer with the agency.
While it’s not exactly clear what happened behind the scenes, any attempt to amend the emergency rules on behalf of the sports leagues was a non-starter. Lawmakers have to sign off on those rules, and perhaps no state legislative body has been less inclined to include the leagues than West Virginia’s.
Del. Shawn Fluharty was the first lawmaker to introduce a West Virginia sports betting bill in 2017.
Boom. Let's get on with the damn thing already. https://t.co/dENZKCeYTE
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) October 3, 2018
What’s next for WV sports betting?
Regulators did not immediately respond to a request for the new document, but Jenkins says the emergency rules remain “virtually unchanged.”
John Cavacini, president of the WV Gaming & Racing Association, told Legal Sports Report that the changes are mostly minor amendments to administrative details. According to Cavacini, regulators denied every one of eight items requested by MLB.
The modified rules now go back to lawmakers for their approval, apparently clean of any league-centric provisions. If granted, they’ll become the long-term legislative rules enforceable by law. And given their resemblance to the framework lawmakers envisioned, it seems fair to expect their approval.
Both Hollywood Casino and FanDuel Sportsbook at The Greenbrier are already taking bets, and Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras will join the market in due time. Mountaineer Casino had not yet applied for a WV sports betting license at last update.
The young industry isn’t exactly soaring yet — only those two sportsbooks are open, and online/mobile betting are still pending rollout — but it’s taken flight with a purpose. West Virginians have wagered more than $5 million through the first four weeks of operation.