West Virginia officially became the fifth state in the United States to offer legal sports betting in August of 2018, following only Mississippi, New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. It is also the third state in the union with legal online sports betting as of December 2018.
The state enacted its sports betting law in March 2018 after the Supreme Court ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, or PASPA, unconstitutional. West Virginia’s state house was ahead of the game in anticipation of a favorable Supreme Court ruling, and their wager paid off as the state was among the very first to offer its residents a regulated and legalized sports gambling product.
The US Supreme Court says there’s no ground to make sports betting illegal, but still leaves the final decision to individual states. Some states, like Utah, seem very unlikely to make any form of gambling legal anytime soon. Others, like West Virginia, have already passed legislation that make sports betting legal and regulated.
When the Hollywood Casino’s sportsbook opened its doors on Aug. 30, 2018, West Virginia officially became the fifth US state to lift the ban on sports betting. Even bigger news followed soon – it was revealed that online sports betting is also legal according to West Virginia laws. This made the Mountain State the third state in the US to have made online sports wagering permitted by the law.
Such liberal attitude of West Virginia officials toward gambling has surprised many people, but the clues were there all along. This state has been gambling-friendly for ages.
History of Gambling in West Virginia
Gambling has always had an important part in the lives of people from West Virginia. Although all forms of gambling have been around for centuries, racing betting did always stand out from the crowd. Betting on horse and greyhound races has been around for centuries, reaching the peak of its popularity in the early 19th century. At that time, profits from betting made up a big chunk on the state’s income.
But then, at the height of the American Civil War, a conservative governor of West Virginia decided to put an end to it. But, those laws didn’t apply to greyhound and horse racing per se. The regulations only outlawed wagering on races, which only meant that the world of betting went underground.
It went like that for nearly seven decades before the government of West Virginia figured out that the ban is of no use. Underground gambling was not bringing any profits to the state’s piggyback. They realized that they were going to get more money if they legalized it.
As soon as betting on greyhound and horse racing became legal again, the popularity of these sports skyrocketed almost immediately. The move boosted the state’s economy significantly, which led to the construction of one of the largest race tracks in this part of the world, the Tri-State Race Track, now known as Mardi Gras Casino.
Apart from betting on racing events, West Virginia was on the forefront where other gambling forms are concerned. The state lottery, for example, was approved in 1984, selling traditional lottery tickets during the first decade of its existence. But, just 10 years later, it expanded to video lottery.
Video slots and video poker machines came into the life of West Virginia residents a few years after the lottery became a big deal here. However, before the year 2007, those machines were permitted only in registered casinos.
The form of online gambling that took the most to get legalized in West Virginia is sports betting. Almost a whole century after the ban on greyhound and horse betting was lifted, West Virginia made sports betting legal. In August 2018, West Virginia became the fifth US state to have legalized sports betting, as well as the third US State to legalize online sports betting.
West Virginia has long stood in support of New Jersey in its attempts to legalize sports betting. This move proved to be the right play as the sentiment to legalize sports betting was making its way across the country and into the Supreme Court.
West Virginia state Attorney general Patrick Morrissey actually filed the amicus curiae briefs in both of the New Jersey sports betting cases, and both directly addressed the threat to state sovereignty and the core principles of federalism. All of the following West Virginia sports betting bills were sure to include direct challenges to the PASPA and its implied federal overreach.
From the bill H 2751:
“Whereas our State Attorney General is challenging the usurpation of the federal government of state authority to regulate sports pool betting and has articulated in the briefs of the State of West Virginia in Cristie v. NCAA, 16-476, U.S. Supreme Court, that the U.S. Congress has no power to prevent state governments from authorizing sports betting as a form of gaming and therefore, the Legislature finds that it is reasonable and appropriate, for the State of West Virginia to proceed with legalizing sports pool betting pursuant to this article.”
This type of strong language was not present in most other states’ sports betting bills. West Virginia was not messing around. Then, in March 2017, Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced H 2751. This bill added certain language to the state’s constitution that would allow them to legalize and regulate sports betting at West Virginia casinos. It was quite an aggressive move.
Fluharty’s bill gave West Virginia’s Lottery Commission oversight of the state’s entire sports betting industry. It would allow betting on professional sports and most collegiate sports while taxing the total handle at two percent across the board. The bill also created the so-called “legislative finding,” which affirmed that the federal government has no authority to prohibit sports betting in West Virginia and that the decision to legalize sports betting belongs to the states. It read in part:
“Sports pool betting… in the state is owned by the state and therefore the right to conduct sports pool betting may be licensed by the Lottery Commission…” – H 2751 Bill
Further evidence of West Virginia’s seriousness is the fact the state paid $160,000 to commission a 2017 study on the prospects of legal WV sports betting. Again, West Virginia was playing hard ball with the issue from day one.
Fluharty introduced his 2017 bill once again the following year. This time, his bill was backed up by a matching one in the Senate, S 106, and both of the bills began the year in their respective Judiciary Committees. However, it would take a third bill to move the issue forward.
S 415 was introduced by the state lottery commission, and it was much more comprehensive than the previous bills. S 415 set the licensing and renewal fee at $100,000 and shifted the tax rate to 10 percent of revenue, which was hoped to be a more manageable number for the operators.
The Senate passed the bill in February and the House passed it shortly after, making West Virginia the first state house to do so. A matching House bill, H 4396, had already cleared a committee hearing, paving the way to passage in the lower chamber. With all of this movement forward on the issue, the major sports leagues were quick to notice.
The NBA and MLB then hired lobbyists to push back. It was obvious what was coming as the leagues did not cite the PASPA, as was their usual defense. This time, the leagues actually began to support sports betting legislation, but only if it met a list of their demands. One of those demands asked operators to pay leagues one percent of the total amount wagered, or handle, as an “integrity fee.” Gov. Jim Justice allowed the bill to become law without his signature in March. However, they still weren’t done.
West Virginia has made over $10 million in wagers since Spetember 1st 2018.
Although WV sports betting was legalized in March of 2018, the law didn’t take effect until the Supreme Court decision in May. Once the decision came down, the West Virginia Lottery Commission went to work drafting rules for casinos and sportsbooks.
The target date to open sports betting in West Virginia was before the rather lucrative 2018-19 NFL season. They met their goal, as Hollywood Casino at Charles Town took the first sports bets during its soft opening on August 30th with a full launch on September 1st.
Numbers from the first two months show West Virginia sports betting appears to be strong. Their sportsbooks have booked around $10 million in wagers since the full launch, and weekly totals have been steadily improving with each week. The state collected more than $200,000 in tax in that time too, which forecasts its year-long projection at $5.5 million.
Brick and Mortar
The state’s five casinos and racetracks are able to accept wagers on sporting events:
- Hollywood was the first of five casinos open for business, with operations powered by William Hill.
- The second to launch was Mountaineer Casino in New Cumberland on November 21.
- FanDuel is running the sportsbook at the state’s private resort, The Greenbrier.
- The Casino Club at The Greenbrier is authorized to conduct many forms of gambling, not just sports betting.
- In December of 2018, Mardi Gras Casino and Wheeling Island opened their sportsbooks.
Every Sportsbook in West Virginia
At the moment, there are five venues in West Virginia on which grounds sports betting is allowed. Those are the following:
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races was the first West Virginia casino to introduce sports betting. Before that, the casino was focused primarily on horse and greyhound racing due to the fact that a large race track is on the grounds of the casino. Right now, the visitors can bet both on sports and racing events, as well as wager their money on some of more than 3,000 different slot machines.
The Casino Club at The Greenbrier is another place in West Virginia where people can bet on sports, as well as wager their money on a variety of different casino games. However, this luxury is available only for the hotel guests and private club members.
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort is famous as the first racino in the United States. It started off as a race track in the early 50s, only to add slots in its collection in the 90s. Finally, in 2018, the racino added sports betting to its gambling offer as well.
Mardi Gras Casino and Resort also offers a wide range of gambling options on site, from casino games to off-track betting on horse racing events. When it comes to sports betting, although the casino is permitted to offer both on-site and online sports betting, it’s currently unavailable due to a problem with the software provider. Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack is another West Virginia casino that currently doesn’t have a sportsbook on the premises even though the gambling authorities have allowed it. Once again, the reason is the dispute between the West Virginia casinos and the software providers.
Legal Online Betting in West Virginia
According to the laws in West Virginia, online betting is legal, but only on those sports betting sites that are licensed by the state. Since the laws came into power, West Virginia players could bet online using an app called BetLucky.
However, due to issues between the app developers and casinos, the app ceased operations in March 2019. The result is that West Virginia players currently don’t have any online option available to them when sports betting is concerned. Furthermore, for the same reason, two West Virginia casinos that have sports betting licenses do not run any sportsbook retail operations any longer.
The first West Virginia sports betting app was launched in December of 2018. Betlucky.com is the platform, and it is available anywhere in the state as in-person registration is, wisely, not a state requirement.
While West Virginia is still finalizing online sports betting on the territory of the state, other opportunities are also possible. It’s completely legal to place a wager on the so-called offshore sportsbooks, but it’s not legal for these operators to be extending you betting opportunities.
In order to be able to offer wagering on sports to West Virginia players, an online sportsbook needs to have a valid license issued by the state gambling commission.
Getting such a license is not easy, mainly because of the tax-related criteria set up by the state. The result is that only a couple of sportsbooks are actually licensed by the West Virginia gambling committee and none of them are offshore sportsbooks.