Anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court this year will overturn federal law prohibiting most states from legalizing sports betting, the state Lottery Commission will be introducing legislation this session to permit sports betting at state casinos, Lottery counsel Danielle Boyd told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.
Boyd said the expectation is the high court will issue an opinion in late spring or early summer overturning the ban, and the commission hopes to have a state sports betting law on the books when that happens.
“We hope to have a plan in West Virginia to take advantage of being first in the market, as we were with [racetrack] video lottery and table games,” she said.
The commission’s bill would join two bills already introduced in the House and Senate to legalize sports betting in the state, including a bill sponsored by Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, who offered a similar bill in the 2017 regular session that was never taken up.
Last summer, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear two New Jersey cases challenging the federal ban on sports betting, Fluharty commented, “If we’re able to get in front of this, we might be able to get out ahead of the other states for a few years. The state desperately needs to generate new revenue.”
Last fall, the Lottery Commission awarded a $160,000 contract to Eilers and Kretcik Gaming of Santa Ana, California, for a study to “review opportunities and potential economic impact of implementing sports betting and other forms of internet gaming in West Virginia.”
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said Tuesday he believes the sports betting legislation “has potential on the Senate side,” particularly since there already is an underground economy involving illegal sports betting.
However, he said, “I can’t speak for the House.”
Current House leadership has been strongly opposed to anything construed as expanding gambling in the state.
Sports betting would be a shot in the arm for Lottery revenues that have been generally declining each year since 2007-08, as 29 casinos and racetrack casinos have opened in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, drawing players away from West Virginia.
In fact, without infusion of revenue from new forms of gaming, the Lottery Commission is projecting that Lottery gross revenue will fall below the $1 billion mark in the 2018-19 budget year, which would end a 15-year streak of revenue collections breaking the $1 billion milestone each year.
Lottery gross revenue peaked at $1.52 billion in 2007-08, as the state’s racetrack casinos grossed $914 million. With competition, that gross revenue will drop to $494.5 million this budget year, and is projected to fall to $473.3 million next year.
Sports betting is one of several bills the Lottery Commission has or will be introducing this session in an attempt to raise revenue, Boyd said.
Other bills include:
n Permitting video Keno games in locations other than bars and clubs with liquor licenses. Boyd said a 1994 court ruling restricted video Keno to the adults-only locations, much like the Limited Video Lottery law.
“Every other state that has this game treats it as a traditional lottery game,” she said of the legislation, which would allow Keno in convenience stores and other retail locations.
n Liberalizing regulations for Limited Video Lottery in bars and clubs around the state.
The legislation would permit LVL machines to accept $50 and $100 bills. Currently, the largest denomination the machines can accept are $20 bills.
It also would allow a maximum bet of $5, as opposed to the current $2 max bet.