For a brief time Tuesday evening, a mobile sports betting app affiliated with The Greenbrier casino announced it was accepting wagers on the U.S. presidential election.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice, whose family owns the casino and resort, called the arrangement “truly ludicrous,” and said he put a stop to the plan as soon as he learned about it.
“The very second I found out about it, we disapproved it,” Justice said during the daily state COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon.
He later said, “I didn’t know at all it had been approved by someone in Lottery until about 15 minutes ago, to tell you the truth.”
At 7:42 p.m. Tuesday, publicists for FanDuel Sportsbook put out a news release announcing that West Virginia had become the first state in the nation to approve legal wagering on the presidential election.
The release stated: “The FanDuel Sportsbook in West Virginia will be able to take online wagers immediately on political markets and eventually at the FanDuel Sportsbook inside The Greenbrier. Betting markets will only be available for national elections. Local or state elections are not permitted.”
The Greenbrier casino is closed by executive order of the governor for the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the 2020 presidential election, the sportsbook announced it was accepting wagers on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the Democratic vice presidential nomination and state-by-state wagers on the winning party in the presidential election.
The release said the state Lottery had approved the wagering. The Lottery Commission did not meet Tuesday, and did not take up the matter at its most recent meeting, on March 25.
Wednesday evening, Lottery Director John Myers put out a statement taking blame for authorizing the wagering and for failing to notify the Governor’s Office of the decision.
“I didn’t inform the Governor about it,” Myers said in his statement. “I thought it would be okay, but after review, it was clearly a mistake. We just screwed up. I didn’t have the authority to do it, it should have never happened and I apologize to everyone.”
He said FanDuel was directed Tuesday evening to remove the election wagering from its mobile app.
According to sports betting websites, including Legal Sports Report, FanDuel took down betting odds for the presidential election within an hour of the announcement of the launch.
Under West Virginia law (State Code 3-9-22), “It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in this state.” Betting on elections is a misdemeanor, punishable by forfeiture of the amount wagered and a fine of up to $50.
The law is not clear on whether it is legal in West Virginia to bet on elections held in other states.
Legislation legalizing sports betting at West Virginia’s five casinos and through mobile apps gives the Lottery Commission authority to regulate wagering on “sports or other events.”
However, Justice said of the Lottery’s apparent approval of the election wagering, “It will be addressed, and it will be addressed sternly.”
He added, “I have no earthly idea why in the world someone would approve that.”
Justice also questioned why no one at the Lottery notified — or sought input from — the Governor’s Office before the announcement.
One of Justice’s challengers in the June Republican primary election for governor, Woody Thrasher, used the opportunity to criticize Justice, implying that the governor was brokering the election betting deal at a time when he should be focused on the state’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Justice’s scheme would have directly benefited the casino at The Greenbrier, which he refused to put in a blind trust, like he promised us four years ago,” Thrasher campaign manager Ann Ali said in a statement.