W.Va.’s Sports Betting Kicks Off In Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN — Sports betting has begun in West Virginia.

The Sportsbook at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races kicked off in time for football season. That was the goal of the operation, as the casino held a gala opening Saturday morning just before the start of the noon college games.

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann made a ceremonial first bet. Among his wagers, Theismann picked his former team to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in the first NFL game next weekend.

The sports broadcaster, whose focus is on on pro football, played to the crowd by giving some betting advice about a game that was to be played later Saturday: “I like West Virginia over Tennessee.”

The state Legislature passed March 3 the West Virginia Lottery Sports Wagering Act in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing sports betting. That decision came in May, giving West Virginia a jump on implementing sports betting ahead of surrounding states.

The Charles Town casino is the first and only operation to take sports wagers in the Mountain State.

“We wanted to open by football season,” said Erich Zimny, vice president for racing operations at the facility.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, sports betting was limited to Nevada.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in my 26 years in the business,” said Scott Saunders, the general manager at Charles Town.

“I never thought I’d see sports betting outside of the state of Nevada.”

A steady stream of bettors lined up in advance of Saturday’s official opening of the Sportsbook. They made their wagers to employees dressed in striped referees jerseys.

Bets were taken earlier in the week after a soft opening that Zimny said reached six figures in wagering over just two days.

Although Zimny said the casino is entering unknown territory, it was so far, so good from their perspective. Lottery and elected state officials on hand shared that point of view.

“Nobody knows for sure,” he said. “It’s a new industry. We’ll know better in a couple of months.”

In a couple of weeks, a mobile app that will allow users to place a bet within the state boundaries will change how bets are made, he said.

State Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, praised the state Legislature for enacting rules that allowed West Virginia to become a stakeholder in sports betting virtually from the start.

“We passed this legislation before the Supreme Court even ruled,” Blair said. “We moved by the speed of light.”

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