Sports Betting Bill Advances in West Virginia Senate

West Virginia Legislative Services Photo West Virginia Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, listens during a judiciary committee meeting Wednesday at the Capitol in Charleston.

WHEELING — Measures to legalize sports betting in West Virginia passed both the House and Senate Judiciary committees at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

House Bill 4396 and Senate Bill 415 now go on to the respective Finance committees in both chambers, with recommendations to pass the Legislature.

“The bill moved through committee with no amendments,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, an advocate for the bill’s passage. “I think it was made clear to those on the committee that it will have a very positive impact on our entire state and specifically the Northern Panhandle.

“Two-thirds of all revenue is expected to come from out-of-state residents. It’s rare that we have bills like this which will raise revenue without raising taxes on West Virginians,” Fluharty said.

Discussion on the Senate side set the possible revenue from the bill at $5.5 million per year. Fluharty expects the bill to pass.

The legislation limits the number of sports betting locations in the state to the state’s five casinos located at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson, W.Va., the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston, and the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs to apply for a license for a sports betting operation.

If the bill is passed by the Legislature, it would not become effective unless Congress acts to authorize sports wagering, or the U.S. Supreme Court renders an opinion permitting states to start sports betting games.

The casinos must apply for a sports betting license at an initial cost of $100,000, and the license would be valid for five years. After this, the casino would be subject to a $100,000 license renewal fee.

The state would impose and collect a 10 percent fee from the casino’s adjusted gross sports wagering receipts, and this money would go into a West Virginia Sports Wagering Fund created by the legislation.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock credited Fluharty with “making some pretty good arguments” before the House Judiciary Committee.

“Personally, I’m not a gambler, but if some people want to put a few bucks down on a baseball game, the law shouldn’t stand in their way,” McGeehan said. “After all, plenty of folks bet on horse racing, so allowing some other sporting events to be included seems reasonable.”

“I think it will pass, and Delegate Fluharty deserves a lot of the credit,” McGeehan said.

On the Senate side, Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said he would vote against the bill for personal reasons.

“I have worked with several people who have lost their homes due to gambling, and a lot of it was because of sports betting through bookies,” he said. “I don’t fault anyone for supporting bill, but I’m a ‘no’ vote.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said people have a choice in whether or not they wish to gamble.

“There is all kinds of legal gambling, and this bill won’t make it any easier — it’s already an easy thing to do,” he said.

“This is regulating gambling, and we will have the ability to get people into treatment.

“I don’t see any harm. It’s an industry that’s nationwide, and it’s saving our citizens from trying to get to those other places even if it’s by phone or the internet.”

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, the sponsor of SB 415, acknowledged concerns about it are valid.

“While I don’t see this as the end all be all, it will generate revenue for the state,” he said. “It’s going on whether we like it or not. Under this, we would be regulating it, and the state could gain from it.”