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Justice lets sports betting bill become law; NBA hints at special session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would allow betting on sports to become legal in West Virginia — pending the results of a U.S. Supreme Court decision — will become law without Gov. Jim Justice’s signature.

The National Basketball Association issued a news release thanking Justice for his commitment to call a special session to work out issues with the policy, although Justice himself did not specifically mention a special session.

West Virginia Lottery, an agency under the executive branch, was the chief proponent of the bill.

The bill passed the House of Delegates 77-22 on March 2. It passed the Senate 25-9 on Feb. 20.

Justice issued a news release Friday evening acknowledging the bill passing into law. The governor cited potential but unspecified conflicts in the legislation and a desire to establish a closer relationship with professional sports leagues who lobbied for changes to the bill.

“After the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision on sports wagering, to address any provisions of the legislation that might be in conflict, I will ask the Legislature to look at the advantages of partnering with the major sports leagues,” Justice stated in a Friday evening news release.

“I believe there could be real value to this partnership. I expect the Supreme Court to rule on this issue in the next few months. This approach will allow us to develop a relationship with all the major sports leagues so that it is beneficial to everyone.”

Professional sports leagues have lobbied to have a one percent integrity fee amended into the bill.

Major League Baseball had said it would urge Justice to veto the bill.

National Basketball Association Executive Vice President of Communications Mike Bass issued a statement Friday evening, saying the sports league appreciates the call for legislation to address any issues if sports betting is legalized.

Although Justice’s comments did not specifically mention a possible special session, the NBA’s did.

“We appreciate the Governor’s commitment to call a special session to add necessary and critical
safeguards to the law,” Bass stated. “We will work with all relevant parties on amendments that will protect
consumers and the integrity of sports.”

Justice’s statement did say “if there are issues that we can address” and make this “model legislation that the entire country can use and duplicate, we should do so. Again, nothing can happen until the Supreme Court issues their decision, but we want to be ready when they do.”

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 Legislature passed the sports betting 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.

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.

West Virginia will charge $100,000 licensing fees to the state’s casinos.

And West Virginia’s bill would set a 10 percent tax on adjusted gross receipts.

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