West Virginia Advances Sports Betting Regulations - Again

West Virginia Advances Sports Betting Regulations - Again

West Virginia has overcome another sports betting obstacle.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports West Virginia officials filled sports betting regulations with the Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. Had they failed to do so it could have delayed sports betting roll out at West Virginia’s five casinos until March 2019 or later.

After the state legislature passed sports betting legalization with widespread bipartisan support earlier this year, government regulators have delayed West Virginia for nearly six months from taking its first bet. As Delaware, New Jersey and Mississippi have all created their sports wagering frameworks within the past few months, West Virginia has been unable to do so despite overwhelming support from lawmakers and gambling stakeholders.

The state’s gaming facilities have blamed Gov. Jim Justice for the delay, according to media reports. Despite the lopsided support for sports betting, Justice never signed the bill, instead allowing it to come into law without his signature. His family owns The Greenbriar, one of the five facilities eligible to take bets and arguably the state’s most iconic resort. Speculation arose that Justice had declined to sign or veto the bill as a way to recuse himself from a possible conflict of interest.

Critics say that conflict remains - and is the reason sports betting in a state has been stalled for so long.

Sports Leagues Push For West Virginia Integrity Fee

Justice received heavy lobbying from professional sports leagues to include what they call an “integrity fee” into any sports betting. The leagues argued a cut of all wagers was necessary to protect sports from outside influences. All states with current sports betting laws on the books rejected that argument, claiming it was unnecessary to protect the game, siphoned away revenue from state legislatures and casinos and in reality was a “money grab” for the leagues.

The exception was West Virginia. The Greenbriar has close relationships with pro sports leagues, hosting an annual PGA Tour event as well as training camp for the NFL’s Houston Texans. State gambling entities and lawmakers worried the governor’s office would derail sports betting in order to appease the leagues with the integrity fee.

These fears were further exacerbated by a series of reviews. The West Virginia Lottery, which oversees sports betting regulations, in June passed temporary rules to allow casinos to begin preparations to take sports bets. That was in itself subject to a lengthy review from the governor’s office, but after it went through without any changes, gambling stakeholders were optimistic sports betting could move forward.

During the delay, the state’s casinos, most notably the Greenbriar, began preparations for a sportsbook. FanDuel, a leading American daily fantasy site and sports gambling proprietor, announced a partnership with the famed resort. In recent earnings reports, MGM announced an as-yet-undisclosed stake in the Mountain State and, on the heels of successful launches elsewhere, more gambling companies are sure to follow.

That’s assuming the state avoids further regulatory headaches.

Gambling Stakeholders Push Through

As gambling entities prepared to take bets, additional hurdles came via further regulatory minutia. The review from the governor’s office last month arrested further progress, even though it didn’t create any changes to the existing framework. After approval, state law required the sports betting regulations to be filed for public comment by Aug. 8. Had they not been filed, the existing temporary regulatory framework would have expired and implementation could have subsequently been delayed for six months or more.

State lawmakers last week pushed the Justice administration to not only file the law for public comment in order to prevent a lengthy delay but to also leave the rules unchanged. In a letter to the governor’s office, legislators from both chambers reiterated opposition to integrity fees and threatened to prevent any efforts to insert them into legislation.

The lawmakers' demands were heard. Now, more than half a year after it legalized sports betting, West Virginia could take its first sports bet with some hopeful it could come as early as Sept. 1. West Virginia Gaming and Racing Association president John Cavacini said the government won’t be able to delay implementation any further.

”I don’t know where they go from here,” he told the Gazette-Mail. “They’ve exhausted everything they could do.”

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