More West Virginia Casinos Set to Take Bets Despite Hurdles

More West Virginia Casinos Set to Take Bets Despite Hurdles

Several more West Virginia casinos are set to take their first-ever sports bets – even though some state government interests have not made it easy for them.

Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in the state’s northern panhandle as well as Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro are set to take bets by the end of the month, according to the West Virginia Gazette-Mail. This comes after two more casinos took their first bets earlier this month. The state’s other casino, Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Center in New Cumberland, is also projected to apply to take sports bets in the coming weeks.

Though these are good signs for the West Virginia market, it hasn’t not always been a straightforward process. A recent meeting of state officials prove there are possibly more challenges on the horizon.

West Virginia Sports Betting Overcomes Obstacles

West Virginia passed a sports betting bill even before the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban. The state could have theoretically taken a bet that same day. Instead, it took nearly four months from the court’s announcement to the first wager.

After successfully expanding “Las Vegas-style” casino offerings at four public facilities in the state, as well as a private casino at the Greenbriar Resort, sports betting expansion was strongly supported by elected officials. A sports betting bill that would legalize wagering if and when the federal ban was revoked easily passed both houses of the state legislature. Gov. Jim Justice declined to sign the bill, but it came into law without a veto as it assuredly would have been overruled by lawmakers.

Media reports indicate Justice didn’t sign the bill in part due to a conflict of interest as his family owns the Greenbriar. Since that point, state officials have feared his administration has sought to delay and possibly modify sports betting implementation in part due to his relationship with the state’s most venerable resort.

Along with a long history hosting some of the most famous and powerful guests in the country, the iconic Greenbriar holds an annual PGA Tour event as well as training camp for the NFL’s Houston Texans. These leagues, as well as the NBA and MLB, had previously lobbied Justice to include what they called “integrity fees” or a portion of gambling revenues to be reallocated back to the sports organizations as a means to counter nefarious outside gambling influences.

Lawmakers and gambling stakeholders have refuted these fears as unnecessary and a detriment to their own revenue potentials. They have been further worried that Justice, due to his complex affiliation with the leagues, could prove a captive audience for their interests.

Those worries have been manifested partially due to a series of delays at nearly every step of the regulatory process for sports betting.

The state’s lottery board, which oversees sports betting, passed rules to begin taking bets this summer, but that approval was stalled by a lengthy review from the governor’s office. Afterward, state officials just barely met a deadline to file paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office. Had they missed it, sports betting could have been delayed for six more months.

Further media reports indicate the Justice administration continued to find ways to incorporate integrity fees, to the dismay of state lawmakers. Former Lottery Director Alan Larrick unexpectedly resigned his position the day before West Virginia took its first bet, a development which further exasperated legislators concerns.

Lawmakers expressed their worries publicly again at a meeting Sept. 17. Lottery officials indicated that sports betting would continue its rollout without integrity fees. The Gazette-Mail reported that elected officials are still leery of future interjection from the governor’s office.

Rollout Continues For Now

For stakeholders and lawmakers, the good news is the majority of West Virginia’s licensed gambling facilities should be able to operate as originally intended by the legislation.

Hollywood Casino in Charles Town took the state’s first bet Sept. 1, setting the Mountain State as the fifth state in the nation to take a legal wager. The Greenbriar followed suite two weeks later. With the Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras casino are set to follow shortly, in-person gambling centers will be operational near each quadrant of the state.

Meanwhile the state is progressing with a potentially more significant development.

West Virginia could be just the third state to take a legal online wager outside a casino property, joining Nevada and New Jersey. Officials believe mobile wagering could be an even bigger boon for the state’s gambling industry and financial bottom line, especially after the success of similar setups elsewhere.

Concerns remain about fees and regulations in West Virginia but, for now, it is poised to continue growing on the forefront of legalized American sports betting.

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