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.
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.
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.