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House passes two gambling bills with ease

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates passed two bills on Friday that would make it much easier for West Virginians to gamble.

HB 2934, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, that would allow the state’s four licensed racetracks and the Greenbrier Resort to offer interactive wagering games online passed with 72 for, 22 against and six not voting.

HB 2901, the satellite casino bill, allowing for the establishment of a secondary location for those racetrack video lottery terminals, passed with 80 for, 15 against and five not voting.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, has been a supporter of both bills and spoke on the House floor today on the interactive wagering bill, also known as iGaming, before the final vote.

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio

“I think we press the green button and press the green button and get some freedom here in West Virginia and play some poker,” he said. “If you want to play against me, good luck.”

Poker is one of the many table gaming options that would become available online to play along with video slots. Fluharty added that there is a black market out there for this that West Virginia needs to jump on to collect from. Under the current state of the bill, West Virginia would receive 15 percent privilege tax on the online gambling and operators would have to pay a $100,000 licensing fee to offer that kind of gaming.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, voted against the interactive wagering bill. He noted how capturing a black market is expanding state-sponsored gambling and something that his party platform is against.

Del.  Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette

“Right now it is not legal in this state,” he said before the vote. “If you read the prelude in this bill, it talks about how we need to capture a huge black market and then put it into regulation in our state and then tax it.

“If you push a green button, you are pushing a green button in the face of those who brought us here. I would urge ladies and gentlemen to push the red button. We just passed a bill a few minutes ago (satellite casino bill), we have another one here. Since I’ve been here we’ve been passing bills like this ad nauseam. I for one am tired of it.”

Fast indicated on the floor that gambling is supposed to enhance tourism but iGaming will do the opposite.

“I thought gambling was supposed to really enhance our tourism industry and bring people in,” he said. “This is a mechanism to allow people to gamble on their cell phone sitting hundreds of miles away or even out of state.

“It says in the bill that the entities can have agreements with other governments. Government is defined as any other state or local governments.”

Del. Erikka Storch, R-Ohio

Another Ohio County delegate, Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, was the sponsor of HB 2901, the satellite casino bill. Ohio County is home to one of the four licensed racetracks in the state, Wheeling Island Casino. The bill opens the possibility for Wheeling Island Casino or the other three casinos to open a second casino site that would have to be owned or leased within the same county.

The second site would not offer a track or hotel, but could offer table games, slots, sports betting and simulcast racing.

Storch cited the Wheeling Island Casino’s location, which can see periodic flooding from the Ohio River, and the impact of traffic at the casino due to the planned construction projects on Interstate 70 as reasons for passage of the bill.

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