CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers aren’t showing any interest in revisiting the sports betting law they just passed a few weeks ago, and some are questioning whether a government role is necessary outside of basic oversight.

Gary Howell

“The state just has to make sure the rules are fair and known and everybody plays by the same rules,” said Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, chairman of the House Government Organization Committee.

West Virginia passed its sports betting law this past legislative session, anticipating an imminent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that may allow for broadened betting on sports events.

Governor Justice let the bill pass into law without his signature because his family owns The Greenbrier resort, which has a casino and also hosts The Greenbrier Classic PGA event.

A big issue has continued.

Major sports leagues say they should be paid an “integrity fee” — a slice of the wagers.

Justice has been receptive to that position, so his administration gathered the players this week at “The War Room” at state Lottery headquarters. The governor also indicated earlier this month that he’d like to call a special session for lawmakers to address the integrity fee.

Lawmakers from both parties have said there is very little, if any, support for that idea.

“The government doesn’t have a role in these,” Howell said. “These integrity fees are shifting revenue from an in-state employer to an entity that has no presence in the state.”

Howell was talking about government imposing the fee on West Virginia’s five casinos, which would benefit the professional sports leagues. The state does not have any big league sports.

“This is two private entities,” Howell said in a Friday afternoon telephone interview. “The major league sports in general are all private entities. The casinos are private entities. They’re free to enter into any private contract that they see as mutually beneficial.

“The two of them can work together on it, and government has no role in it. Freedom to enter into a contract is totally outside the government’s realm between two private entities.”

Shawn Fluharty

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was one of the most vocal supporters of the sports betting bill in the Legislature. He has continued to be vocal in response to the Justice administration.

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is extract money from West Virginia and send it to New York City and billionaire friends of the governor,” Fluharty said Friday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Fluharty was particularly alarmed by a closed-door meeting this week that was set up by the Justice administration to work on a deal with the casinos and the professional sports leagues. Businessman Bray Cary, working as an unpaid staffer with the Justice administration, led the discussion.

“There’s what appears to be impropriety going on with these closed-door meetings that took place the other day with Bray the intern,” he said.

Fluharty questioned whether the meeting should have been open and whether the administration’s role was appropriate.

“That brings into question why would the governor orchestrate a meeting and have Bray the intern be the lead on it and then invite public agencies and legislators – those who work on a daily basis in a public setting – and then say ‘Oh, wait a minute, this is a side deal between two private companies,'” Fluharty said.

“OK, if it’s a private side deal, why is the government intervening in the first place?”

He questioned whether the governor’s role is even appropriate. Justice didn’t attend the meeting, but he called in to urge progress.

“This calls into question Governor Justice in the sense that he’s involved here in the private and public side because he owns The Greenbrier.

“A PGA representative was at that meeting. They hold an event at The Greenbrier. Are we setting up a quid pro quo situation here? I don’t believe that’s in the best interest of the state, and it’s really troublesome when our governor has yet to separate himself from his public and private life.”

The only elected official at the meeting was Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Roger Hanshaw

Hanshaw came away thinking there may be reason to consider the concerns of West Virginia and Marshall universities, which say they are likely to experience increased compliance costs with sports betting right in the state.

But, besides that, Hanshaw does not believe there’s a government role beyond what has already passed.

Hanshaw said he’d only consider it “if somebody could convince me that there’s some role for government in this. As I understand any deal discussed it’s really a question between the casinos and major league sports.”

Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia, which lobbies against increased taxes, sent out a news release titled “Mountaineers Deserve Better Than Governor’s Closed-Door Corporate Crony Scheme”

“The integrity fee is blatant corporate cronyism and the shadowy negotiating process being pushed by Gov. Justice lacks transparency and accountability,” stated Jason Huffman, director of the organization.

“Lawmakers of both parties strongly oppose an integrity fee, which is why Governor Justice has side-stepped the legislative process.”

 

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