The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday to legalize sports betting at the state's five casinos in the event that a U.S. Supreme Court case leads to the repeal of a nationwide ban. The bill was approved 25-9 and now moves to the House of Delegates, where a similar bill is pending.
The Senate bill would allow sports betting at West Virginia licensed casinos and on Lottery Commission-approved mobile device applications. Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, led the chamber through the discussions Tuesday. He said the bill simply gives casinos "one more tool to be able to provide entertainment. All our bordering states are considering this as well, so we need to remain competitive."
But Democrats Douglas Facemire of Braxton County and Michael Romano of Harrison County said they were worried about the temptation of sports betting among the state's 1.8 million residents, 18 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Romano said he doesn't oppose casino gambling because it's fun, but didn't like how easy it would be to bet on sports through a mobile phone app.
"When you make betting no harder than going down to your corner pizza place or beer joint and gamble, and you make it no harder than holding this thing in your hand to gamble, you're taking a big risk with our citizens," Romano said. "Do we want to be a part of that?" Romano also said he didn't anticipate the state would get a big return on its investment. Cabell County Democrat Mike Woelfel said he attended a Super Bowl party where people were using their phones to place wagers. "They didn't have to go to a track," Woelfel said. "So this is going on and this is a fact of modern society. And it's a stream of potential tax revenue that I don't think we can ignore." Conservative estimates are that the bill would bring in revenue of about $5 million for the state in its first year. Blair said casinos would be charged $100,000 for a five-year sports betting operators license, and maximum bets would be established by the casinos or by state lottery rule. The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball say the legislation doesn't protect consumers or prevent players from betting on their own sports, in addition to lacking proper safeguards. The leagues say casinos must be required to share real-time betting information, report abnormal betting and cooperate with league investigations. Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide New Jersey's challenge to a law banning sports betting in all but four states.