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Delegate Shawn Fluharty: Integrity Fee Is a Long Shot

FILE – In this May 14, 2018, file photo, people make bets in the sports book at the South Point hotel and casino in Las Vegas. A top New Jersey lawmaker, Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney, urged all 50 states on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, to reject "integrity fee" payments to professional sports leagues in any sports betting legislation, calling it "extortion" for leagues to demand money for hosting honest games. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

WHEELING — The American Gaming Association is supporting efforts to “strengthen game integrity” following last week’s Supreme Court decision to strike down federal bans on sports betting.

But West Virginia lawmakers remain opposed to any integrity fees being placed on wagering, said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. Some professional sports leagues have suggested they should be paid integrity fees in order to provide sports betting operations with reliable information on athletic events, and to police athletics to prevent corruption resulting from more widespread betting.

This week the AGA sent members of Congress a letter outlining their priorities pertaining to sports betting. One of these is to “strengthen game integrity,” though the association did not explain what it meant by that.

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have been lobbying in West Virginia for an integrity fee that would give them 1 percent of the handle on sports betting — or $1 on every $100 bet on their sports in West Virginia. In exchange, the leagues would help verify information involved in betting.

But Fluharty said the push by the AGA for technology to monitor sports betting isn’t swaying members of the West Virginia Legislature.

“Any attempt at an integrity fee is dead,” he said. “My colleagues in a bipartisan coalition do not support it, or sending West Virginia money to billionaire leagues.

“The only way this would happen is if there is a federal law, and now the leagues are lobbying Congress for federal legislation,” he said. “These leagues have been going around, strong-arming states for an integrity fee. Now they’re hoping congressional efforts can help them.”

Legislation passed by West Virginia lawmakers earlier this permits sports betting operations locally at the Wheeling Island Casino and Resort and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester. It also would allow sports betting at the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort near Charleston and at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, which is owned by the family of Gov. Jim Justice.

Justice and representatives of the State Lottery Commission, West Virginia’s licensed casino operators, the NBA and MLB met May 9 in a closed door session to discuss the subject of an integrity fee on sports betting in West Virginia.

Justice released a statement May 10 announcing a tentative agreement was reached, and that the fee would be paid out of casino profits.

Fluharty said the backlash following the this announcement and the closed session preceding it kept the issue of sports betting off the call for the special session of the Legislature this week in Charleston.

He has filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking knowledge of what happened at the May 9 closed meeting.

“After the May 9 meeting — that was clearly an infraction and about the integrity fee — the governor made it clear he wanted West Virginia to move forward with an integrity fee,” Fluharty said. “The governor is the only person who wants it, and he won’t it get done through us.”

Butch Antolini, director of communications for Justice, did not immediately return messages left Thursday.

State Lottery Director Alan Larrick said talks between state leaders, the casinos and the sports organizations are on-going, but don’t involve the Lottery Commission.

“I hope they work out a private agreement among themselves that doesn’t involve us,” he said.

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