CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House and Senate committees Wednesday advanced bills that would legalize sports betting at the state’s five casinos, if the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to do so.
Along with betting on sports events at the casinos, the bills make betting through those sites available via mobile apps for people who are physically located in West Virginia.
The House Judiciary Committee approved HB 4396 by an 18-6 vote, advancing it to the House Finance Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 415 by a voice vote and sent it to the Finance Committee.
Most of the debate took place in the House. Delegates questioned Danielle Boyd, counsel for the West Virginia Lottery, for the better part of two hours.
She was asked at one point, “Is this a new form of gambling for the state of West Virginia?”
Her response: “It’s a new form of gaming for the industry.”
The federal ban on sports betting in all states except for Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada under the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act could be lifted with a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
“This federal law was guised, essentially, as a protection of the integrity of the game,” Boyd told lawmakers. “The effect of it 25 years later is it’s done really nothing except create a multi-billion dollar black market for illegal sports wagering.”
In December, the Court heard arguments on challenges to New Jersey’s laws allowing for sports betting. The Mountain State has filed a brief in support of striking down the ban.
The West Virginia Lottery is backing the bill as a way to get ahead of what could be rollouts of legalized sports betting nationwide. Estimates vary on how much revenue it would generate.
A legislative estimate predicts additional revenue to the state of $5.5 million the first year. However, a study commissioned by the Lottery predicted revenue two to three times higher ($9 million to $17 million).
The bill cleared the committees despite opposition from several Republicans, who have the majority of seats.
“We’re just feeding addictions,” said Delegate Ray Hollen (R-Wirt). “This is wrong.”
Delegate Tom Fast (R-Fayette) also opposed the bill, arguing that it was out of line with Republican principles.
“If members of my party are going to vote for this, you are voting against expressed language in our platform,” said Fast.
However, the bill ended up with bi-partisan support on the committee, with Republicans and Democrats joining to provide 18 votes.
Delegate Riley Moore (R-Jefferson) said sports betting would bring additional revenue to the state, especially if West Virginia gets ahead of other states.
“We’ve heard five years, $178 million in additional revenue and upwards of perhaps 500 new jobs,” said Moore. “The numbers certainly speak for themselves.”
“I think it would be a nice change for West Virginia to be first rather than following suit after a number of other states do things.”