West Virginia Senate Votes to Fund PEIA With Sports Betting

WHEELING — As teachers and school personnel prepare to strike across West Virginia, partially because of rising health care costs, the state Senate unanimously passed an amendment to direct revenue from sports betting to the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s stabilization fund.

The amendment passed 34-0 Monday, with all senators present. It directs the first $15 million in tax revenue each year from proposed sports betting games to the State Lottery Fund, and it is expected that level would be reached sometime during the second year of sports betting.

The measure was added to Senate Bill 415, legislation that would permit sports betting at West Virginia’s five casinos. The legislation, however, would only go into effect if Congress acts to authorize sports wagering on the national level, or if the U.S. Supreme Court renders an opinion permitting states to start sports betting games.

After this, the revenue would go into the PEIA Financial Stability fund “to stabilize and preserve the future solvency of PEIA,” the measure states. The amount cannot be included in the calculation of any cost-sharing plan between the state and its employees.

Presently, PEIA premiums for employees are determined by a formula in which the state pays 80 percent of costs, and the employee 20 percent.

Numbers compiled by the Eilers and Krejcik gaming research firm predict sports betting would result in $13.4 million in revenue the first year, $21.7 million the second, $29.7 million in year three, $29 million the fourth year, and $28.7 million in five years.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said while the amendment would be helpful to PEIA, it “would not be a permanent fix.”

Nevertheless, Democrats in the Senate favored the measure.

“Prayers do work,” Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said. “Over the weekend, I prayed for an opportunity for us to move forward toward fixing PEIA.

“Even with this, we will still have a deficit, and we will still have to identify other resources.”

Of course, none of the revenue will in the state unless sports betting is legalized nationally.

“This all based on the premise the U.S. Supreme Court would make a ruling permitting sports betting,” Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said.

The SB 415 will have its third reading and vote for passage today in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said it is hard to predict how the amendment and the sports betting bill would fair in the House if approved by the Senate.

“It’s hard to predict what the House will do, but I believe they will accept it,” Ferns said.