Two West Virginia Casinos Delay Sports Betting
West Virginia was the fifth state to take legal sports bets, with two casinos taking wagers earlier this month. It may be a while before the state sees a third.
Two state casinos slated to offer sports bets as soon as this month have been delayed, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. The parent company of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Nitro announced Sept. 27 it had delayed applications for both properties without giving a further explanation why.
This has reignited fears that state officials are trying once again to implement an additional fee on winnings.
”Integrity Fee” Push Concern Returns – Again
West Virginia was among the handful of states most eager to implement legal sports betting. That hasn’t assured a smooth implementation process.
The state legislature overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan sports gambling legalization bill ahead of the Supreme Court decision to strike down the ban. The state could have theoretically taken a bet the same day the court announced its decision in May. In practice, this was a far more complicated process.
Legalization has been delayed by a regulatory hurdle at nearly every step of the process.
The state lottery board, which oversees West Virginia’s gambling, passed its rules early this summer. Before casinos could apply to take bets, they were snarled by a lengthy review process from the governor’s office. This stalled betting for several more weeks.
After those regulations were approved, the Secretary of State’s office nearly missed a key filing deadline that would have delayed sports betting for several more months. This hesitation, followed by the unexpected (and so far unexplained) resignation of the state lottery director has fueled further fears that the executive branch has tried to change the nature of sports betting in the state.
Gov. Jim Justice has given plenty of reasons for gambling stakeholders’ fears.
Governor’s Actions Stoke Fears
Justice didn’t sign the sports betting legalization bill into law but, facing a likely veto override, he allowed it to come into law without his signature. Media outlets at the time reported Justice hadn’t signed the bill in part due to a conflict of interests. His family owns the Greenbriar, one of the five state facilities eligible to take sports bets as part of the legislation.
More than just a casino, the legendary resort also has close ties with professional sports leagues. The facility has hosted NFL training camps for several years as well as an annual PGA Tour event.
It’s because of this, his critics attest, the governor has been more open to what leagues like the NFL and PGA call “integrity fees.”
Major professional sports leagues as well as the NCAA have lobbied state lawmakers to reallocate a cut of all gambling profits back to them as a necessary tool to combat nefarious outside influences. Legislators have largely refuted this argument, pointing to the existing infrastructure to combat corruption, with some going so far as to call the request “money grabs.”
In West Virginia, these same lawmakers that passed a gambling bill without any fees for the leagues now worry Justice is trying to shoehorn them into the state as a way to appease the leagues his property is already partnered with.
Stakeholders are also worried the fees could cut their profits or force them to offer unappealing bets that drive away customers from legal wagering and back to black market or offshore options.
West Virginia Gambling and Racing Association president John Cavacini told the Gazette-Mail that sports leagues were using the governor’s office to circumvent regulations passed by the state legislature.
“It would be very hard for the tracks to go back and start all over with a new set of rules and regulations. We object to them bringing the same old stuff they lost on in January, February and March, and trying to get them through the backdoor through amending rules and regulations.”
As of now, there are no integrity fees in any of the five states taking bets, including West Virginia. But the threat remains for the two properties taking bets; the Greenbriar and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
It may also play a factor in the delay for Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras casinos.
Regardless of the rationale, West Virginia now only has two facilities that can take bets. With its online infrastructure still weeks away from implementation, that means a sizeable portion of the state is still without a local sports betting destination for at least several more weeks.
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