CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would legalize sports betting at West Virginia’s five casinos now goes to the state Senate floor.
The Senate Finance committee voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the bill. Senate Judiciary has already passed the bill.
The Legislature is moving the bill in anticipation of the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that states may be allowed to establish sports betting. In December, the Court heard arguments on challenges to New Jersey’s laws allowing for sports betting.
The West Virginia Lottery supports the bill 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. But a study commissioned by the Lottery predicted revenue two to three times higher, at $9 million to $17 million.
Senate Finance discussed the bill for two days straight. On Tuesday, the committee considered and voted down a couple of amendments.
One, offered by Senator Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, would have expanded the locations eligible for sports betting to those that already have a limited video lottery license.
“I’m a big fan of small businesses and I think those that have these licenses should also be able to take part,” Maroney said.
Officials from Lottery were concerned about a couple of aspects of the amendment. One was that a separate section of code would be affected. The other was whether smaller businesses would take risks beyond their ability to absorb.
“I don’t think we’ve vetted the potential consequences of opening this thing wide out of the gate,” said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.
Senator Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, offered an amendment that would have given Lottery exclusive control of an app for off-site betting.
He suggested that could swell the state revenue from sports betting tenfold, from roughly $5 million to as much as $50 million.
“If we’re going to take these people’s money, it should be our objective to retain as much of that as possible for the state to give to school teachers, service personnel,” Facemire said.
Lottery officials expressed concern that the agency may not have the in-house expertise to develop odds required by a gambling app. They also expressed concern that monetary exchanges would also be a complication.
“I think the senator from Braxton has a really great concept; I just don’t know about the practicality of it,” Ferns said.
Representatives from professional sports leagues have been at the Capitol to watch the bill.
The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have contended that the sports betting bills being considered in the House and Senate don’t go far enough to mitigate possible risks to the game.
The leagues want to be compensated with a one percent integrity fee. That issue was not discussed in Senate Finance on Tuesday.