CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate passed a bill that would allow sports gambling in West Virginia, pending the results of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where the Finance Committee has already started to discuss it.
Several states are considering such legislation as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a bid by New Jersey to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which limited legalized gambling on sports events only to states that had already done so by 1993.
West Virginia’s Senate passed the bill 25-9. The nays were a mix of Republicans and Democrats: senators Mike Azinger, R-Wood, Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, Mike Romano, D-Harrison, Randy Smith, R-Tucker and Dave Sypolt, R-Preston.
None of the Republicans who voted against the bill rose to talk against it.
The Democrats who voted against it contended the bill could open the door to increased gambling operations in West Virginia without enough state revenue in return.
“When you make betting no harder than going down to your corner pizza place or beer joint, you’re taking a big risk for our citizens,” Romano said.
A fiscal note for the gambling bill estimates it would bring in about $5.5 million in revenue for the states its first year.
West Virginia will charge $100,000 licensing fees to the state’s casinos.
Democrats compared that unfavorably to the $10 million that Pennsylvania has decided to charge — although representatives of West Virginia Lottery have said Pennsylvania’s rate may make that state non-competitive.
West Virginia’s bill would set a 10 percent tax on adjusted gross receipts. Pennsylvania’s passed with a 36-percent tax rate.
“Was there not a sweet spot between $100,000 and $10 million we could have considered?” Romano asked.
Facemire echoed those comments.
“If we’re going to put this temptation out in front of people and $5 million is all we can get, I’m not sure the game is worth the risk,” Facemire said.
“It concerns me that we’re going to tempt our citizens with something like this and all we’re going to get is $5 million.”
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair countered that West Virginia doesn’t yet know what the market will support. He said the state could change its taxes and fees on sports gaming.
But Blair said it’s important for West Virginia to prepare to enter the market before other states do and to provide support for the state’s casinos and their employees.
“This is an opportunity for the casinos in this state, that we’re partners with, to be able to offer another menu of entertainment,” Blair said.
Democrat Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, spoke up in favor of the bill. Woelfel acknowledged he was going against some of the arguments that had been made by his Democratic colleagues.
“It’s a stream of potential tax revenue that I don’t think we can ignore. There will be plenty of competition from Vegas and offshore,” Woelfel said.
Woelfel said charging greater taxes and fees than Lottery has already recommended might not actually lead to greater revenue.
“Just because you’ve doubled the take doesn’t mean it will happen. It could be counterproductive,” he said.
The House Finance Committee started discussing the legislation on Monday afternoon in preparation to soon make its own decision.