Sports Betting Bill Advances To West Virginia Senate Floor

WHEELING — Amid attempts to lessen involvement of casinos and retain more money for state coffers, legislation to legalize sports betting in West Virginia cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and now moves on to a vote in the full Senate.

The committee began its meeting Tuesday by considering an amendment to Senate Bill 415 offered by Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall. His measure would have opened up sports betting to limited video lottery establishments.

The amendment failed by a vote of 12 members against, and four in favor.

As written, the legislation would only allow sports betting at the state’s four racetracks: Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson and the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston — as well as the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

They would be in charge of their own sports books and monitoring sports betting activities, but under the supervision of the West Virginia Lottery Commission.

Maroney acknowledged allowing LVLs to also offer sports betting would make it more technologically difficult for the Lottery Commission to oversee.

“You’ve said this is something that could be looked at down the road,” he said to lottery officials present. “Unfortunately, I’m a little leery… and I want to make sure we explore those options in the future.”

He termed himself “a fan of the tracks,” and said he goes there to gamble “at least three or four times a year” for entertainment.

“But we shouldn’t draw lines,” Maroney said. “We can’t say to the LVLs you can have gambling, but you shouldn’t sports bet.”

Among those expressing opposition to the amendment was Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio,.

“A lot of thought and a lot of expertise has gone into this legislation,” he said. “We haven’t gone into implications of opening it up right out of the gate.”

The question of whether the Lottery Commission has the technological capability and in-house experience to monitor sports betting came up in a second amendment offered by Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton.

The present legislation allows for each casino to create its own phone app for use by those sports betting within the state. Facemire’s amendment would have abolished this provision, allowing only the Lottery Commission to create and operate the app.

He said it is expected two-thirds of the sports betting in West Virginia will occur on phone apps, and he thought the state would miss out on a massive pot of money that otherwise would go to the tracks.

“Is it right that if we takes millions of dollars from hardworking people that it go to corporations out of state?” Facemire asked. “It should be our objective to retain as much as we can for our state.”

Lottery officials said the legislation was crafted so the casinos would operate sports betting apps and operations because they have the expertise and in-house people to do so.

“If you don’t have the in-house expertise to do this, how can you be expected to regulate sports betting?” asked Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

The amendment failed by a narrow vote of eight against and seven in favor.

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