CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said he still plans to call the Legislature in for a special session this month, dealing with his plans for a revamped state arts department as well as West Virginia’s sports betting law.

Justice, speaking to state media outlets on Friday, provided some details about factors on the sports betting law, which the Legislature passed in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court might allow sports betting in a greater number of states because of a legal challenge by New Jersey.

The entire issue is murky until the Supreme Court comes out with a ruling. But in the meantime, West Virginia has been getting ready for the possibility of sports gaming.

Other state Legislatures have been considering sports gaming bills, but West Virginia remains the only state to have passed legislation this year, according to state Lottery officials.

Justice let the bill go into law without his signature because his family owns The Greenbrier Resort, which has gambling.

An undercurrent of controversy has continued because, if gambling on sports is legalized in West Virginia, professional leagues want a sliver of the action called an integrity fee.

An integrity fee would tax the handle and pay out to each league on which sports wagering would occur.

Handle is the total amount wagered by bettors. That’s different from the revenue brought in by gaming establishments. The revenue is what’s left after winning bets are paid out, a significantly smaller amount than the handle.

Justice proposes taking another look at integrity fees during the special session, which would likely coincide with regularly-scheduled legislative interim meetings, May 20-22.

Prior to that, the Justice administration said Friday, there will be a stakeholders meeting of West Virginia’s casinos plus representatives of the professional sports leagues. The administration indicated that could be late this week.

Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League were involved with lobbying efforts during the legislative session.

“And I think even the PGA is coming in, and maybe even the NCAA also is coming in,” Justice said Friday.

“I think we’re just gathering a little bit more information, I really believe that we need to bring them under the umbrella for the amount of the fee that they wanted, or we negotiated.”

Originally, the sports leagues were asking for an integrity fee of about 1 percent, as they had also desired in other states that were considering sports betting legislation.

Justice said any fee that might be considered during a special session would be less than that.

“They wanted a percent, we negotiated to a quarter of a percent and if we can get them to sign on for that and everything and bring them under the umbrella, I think that’s very very minimal cost to the casinos, and I think it would be a good thing,” Justice said.

His comments got the attention of reporters who cover the gaming industry. Legal Sports Report wrote an analysis this week of Justice’s comments.

“It’s not clear what benefit Justice believes the state will realize from giving them a fee,” Legal Sports Report wrote. “And the idea that he negotiated the leagues down to a smaller percentage is bizarre, seeing as the state already has a law that gives them no fees whatsoever.”

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Larry Puccio

The registered lobbyist for both the MLB and NBA in West Virginia, Larry Puccio, was the leader of Governor Justice’s transition team.

Puccio is also a lobbyist for The Greenbrier Resort, owned by Justice’s family.

“The only groups with a real presence in the state are the PGA Tour — which holds an event at The Greenbrier — and the NCAA, with a pair of Division I schools in the state. (Justice owns The Greenbrier.) There are also minor league baseball teams in the state,” Legal Sports Report concluded.

“But the NBA and MLB have obviously lobbied their way to a position where the law could be put back into play. This week’s meetings might provide more insight.”

The other issue likely to be on the special session agenda is Justice’s concept for a state arts department, although he had less to say about it.

He brought up the department after he signed a controversial bill doing away with the state Department of Education and the Arts. Many of the agencies within that department were to be spun off to the separate Department of Education or to the Department of Commerce.

But Justice, speaking in late March, said he would still like to have a government emphasis on the arts. At the time, he envisioned a state curator for the arts.

“Don’t ask me who that’s going to be,” Justice said. “Don’t ask me the specifics and everything because we’re still working on it.”

No official special session agenda has been released yet. Those may not be the only matters to be considered.

Lawmakers have expressed support for making a bill that increases death benefits for firefighters kiilled in the line of duty go into effect retroactively. That would help the families of two volunteer firefighters who died in a crash on March 24. The bill, which passed this past session, was to go into effect June 8.

Mitch Carmichael

A story published this week by the State Journal also had Senate President Mitch Carmichael hoping to see a bill creating an intermediate court of appeals be considered in special session.

An intermediate court has been considered in West Virginia for at least a decade and is backed by business interests.

The state Senate passed a bill establishing an intermediate court this past session, but the bill did not pass the House.

There was disagreement over how much such a court would cost, but, either way, it wound up being viewed as unaffordable at the same moment thousands of teachers flooded into the state Capitol to demand better wages and stable healthcare benefits.

“It’s critically important that we have that bill,” Carmichael told the State Journal last week.

 

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