Sports Betting Bill Will Become Law in West Virginia

Work on state’s budget continues into final day of legislative session

West Virginia Legislative Services Photo West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, speaks during a session at the state Capitol in Charleston on Friday.

WHEELING — Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he will allow the sports betting bill adopted by the Legislature to become law, which means West Virginia’s four racetracks and The Greenbrier resort — which he owns — may eventually be allowed to offer this form of gambling.

Also Friday, West Virginia lawmakers continued to consider a general revenue fund budget bill. Both the House and Senate today are set to make the last revisions in next year’s budget in what is the last day of the regular session.

Senate Bill 51 permits sports betting in the Mountain State once the games are approved at the national level, most likely via a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“After the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision on sports wagering, to address any provisions of the legislation that might be in conflict, I will ask the Legislature to look at the advantages of partnering with the major sports leagues,” Justice said Friday in a released statement. “I believe there could be real value to this partnership. I expect the Supreme Court to rule on this issue in the next few months.

“This approach will allow us to develop a relationship with all the major sports leagues so that it is beneficial to everyone.”

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association had together termed West Virginia’s sports betting bill “flawed.”

They had lobbied for a veto by Justice, who also owns The Greenbrier.

“We appreciate the governor’s commitment to call a special session to add necessary and critical safeguards to the law,” said Mike Bass, NBA executive vice president for communications. “We will work with all relevant parties on amendments that will protect consumers and the integrity of sports.”

Other critics of the bill say the amount of taxation the state has placed on the bill — 10 percent — is not enough.

Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, said the sports betting bill was set at a 10 percent level because other states are proposing higher rates, and West Virginia wants to be competitive in the market.

Pennsylvania’s law sets sports betting taxes at 36 percent.

“Ohio hasn’t started on this legislation and Pennsylvania takes too big of a cut, so if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes sports betting, we will have an advantage over surrounding states,” he said. ”

Canestraro offered an amendment on the House floor to permit limited video lottery locations to offer sports betting games, but the amendment was defeated. Officials with the West Virginia Restaurant and Bar Association are hoping they will eventually get in on the action.

In addition to The Greenbrier, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle and at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston, are the destinations that could offer sports betting.

Lawmakers had been charged this week with amending the proposed budget bill to account for 5 percent raises for all state employees. House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, reported the cost for raises for all state employees at $111 million.

An additional $29 million also was promised to the Public Employees Insurance Agency stability fund, he reports. When other costs are factored in, lawmakers needed to address about $150 million in new spending.

While Justice has certified an additional $58 million in projected new revenue this year, this money has not yet been figured into the budget. House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said this week they would instead wait to see if the revenue materializes. If it does, they will use the dollars to backfill the budget where needed.

As for the cuts, Canestraro said in the House version of the budget, funding for the State Department of Tourism would be cut by $5 million, while the state Department of Commerce would see a $10 million reduction.

“I’m happy that the House budget does not cut Medicaid IDD waivers to help pay (for the raises),” Canestraro said. “They are funded same amount as last year, with no cuts.”

Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, said much of the money to cover the pay increases “would have otherwise gone to the Department of Commerce.”

“I’ve never been entirely sure about the dubious reasons for the state government maintaining a Department of Commerce to begin with, as commerce is inherently a private function,” McGeehan said.

“So, I’m glad this part of the executive’s budget proposal was unsuccessful, and I think the taxpayers’ money was ultimately put to better use,” he added.