Sports betting bill gets a piece of PEIA action

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate took a bill dealing with sports betting and popped in an amendment meant to help stabilize the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

John Unger

The amendment sponsored by Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, and several other Democrats, at first has net profit from legalized sports betting go into the State Lottery Fund up to $15 million.

The remainder would be deposited into the Public Employees Insurance Agency Financial Stability Fund.

The amendment specifies that the amount should not included in the 80/20 cost-sharing split between the state and employees.

Senators adopted the amendment 34-0. The full sports betting bill is on a passage vote Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Craig Blair

“Prayers do work,” Unger said. “I prayed over the weekend there would be an opportunity for us to start moving toward fixing PEIA.”

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, a Republican from Berkeley County, spoke on the floor in favor of the bill.

“I am in support of the gentleman’s amendment,” Blair said.

This is one of several measures lawmakers have considered in the past week or so to bring stability to PEIA. Some of the bills they have been attached to, like the sports betting bill, have nothing to do with health insurance.

Last week, delegates amended a PEIA funding mechanism into a bill meant to deal with the royalties from natural gas drilling.

Public employees who have faced skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs have said they want long-term stability for PEIA . It’s one of the issues teachers and service personnel have cited as they prepare for a statewide work stoppage starting Thursday.

Meanwhile, sports betting legislation is being pursued by both the Senate and the House of Delegates for the possibility that it could bring another revenue stream to the state.

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.

Even as West Virginia’s Senate was getting a step closer to allowing sports gambling at West Virginia’s casinos and via associated mobile apps, the House Finance Committee was discussing the legislation in preparation to soon make its own decision.

Danielle Boyd, general counsel for the state Lottery, 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.

The fiscal note states, “there are a number of variables that make it difficult to project revenues related to this program. The following estimates are conservative projections based on the information currently available, however, potential revenues could vary in a fairly wide range.”

Boyd told the committee that vendors have suggested the revenue might be from $13.4 million to $28.7 million.

“At least up until year three we would continue to see incremental increases,” Boyd said.

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