West Virginia legislators will be taking a look at the merits of legalizing sports betting in the event that the US Supreme Court overturns the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a 1992 law that prohibits states other than Nevada from offering typical casino sports betting.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio County) first introduced a sports betting bill to the House of Delegates last year, but it stalled before seeing any real movement towards passage. That bill is still on the table, but Fluharty believes that a new bill that was developed with the help of the West Virginia Lottery has a better chance of passing.
Under the new proposal, all casinos in West Virginia would be able to operate sportsbooks. In addition, these casinos could create mobile apps that would allow gamblers to place bets anywhere within the state borders.
Fluharty believes that it is critical for West Virginia to get into the sports betting game as early as possible. Many states have already passed laws that would allow for sports betting should PASPA be overturned, and other states also have bills under consideration.
“We know we’re competing against our neighbors. Pennsylvania has already passed it,” Fluharty told The State Journal. “It’s imperative West Virginia gets out in front of this, instead of waiting to be last.”
According to Fluharty, there is bipartisan support for the measure, which should help push it through the state legislature. One of the most attractive aspects of sports betting is the fact that it produces new revenue for the state without increasing taxes, a rare opportunity for legislators.
Officials at casinos in West Virginia are also in favor of the measure.
“Sports betting [would] allow us to remain competitive with other states, many of which will also look to pass similar legislation pending the Supreme Court ruling,” said Kim Florence, president and general manager of the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
According to Eilers & Krejcik, a consultancy that worked with the West Virginia Lottery Commission, the market for legalized sports betting in the state would be somewhere between $34 and $78 million. Others have estimated that the state could handle as much as $100 million per year by allowing sportsbooks to open in the state.
Fluharty has also pointed out that gamblers are already betting on sports in West Virginia: they’re just doing so with unregulated bookies.
“We have a huge black market, not just in West Virginia but throughout the United States,” Fluharty said in December. “If I wanted to place a bet right now, I’d have no problem going online and doing so. The problem is West Virginia doesn’t see a dime of it.”
As with efforts in other states, any attempt to regulate bookmakers in West Virginia will require a favorable ruling for New Jersey in their case that is currently before the Supreme Court. While the outcome of that case won’t be certain until SCOTUS releases their ruling later this year, the oral arguments in early December suggested that the justices were skeptical of PASPA, leading many to believe that a repeal of the federal law is likely.