After nearly two months of delays, and with just two days to go before a deadline that potentially could have delayed the launch of sports betting at West Virginia casinos for months, legislative rules were finally filed for public comment with the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday.
Under state rule-making review law, legislative rules for public comment have to be filed by Wednesday, or emergency rules to allow implementation of sports betting this fall would have automatically expired — potentially pushing the launch of sports betting back to March 2019 or later.
Management of state casinos believed the delay was part of an effort by the Justice administration to rewrite the rules to direct a portion of sports betting revenue to profit professional sports leagues.
On Friday, the co-chairs of the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee sent a letter to state Lottery Executive Director Alan Larrick, calling for “cooperation” in getting the rules posted for public comment before the 30-day deadline expired Wednesday.
In the letter, Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, and Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, warned that the committee could use its power to reject the rule if there were last-minute attempts to change it.
“If in our opinion, an agency has exceeded the authority granted to them in statute, we believe it is our legislative duty to proceed in that matter,” they stated.
Jared Wyrick, director of the Rule-Making Review Division, said the co-chairs were concerned by the delay, and believed that the Justice administration would attempt to withdraw the current emergency rule — which does not include any provisions for payments to professional sports leagues — in an attempt to amend and refile it.
“There was talk they might withdraw the emergency rule, which they thought would allow them to do it over,” he said of the Justice administration.
In the letter, the co-chairs warned that they would recommend that the committee reject the rule in that circumstance.
“If they didn’t put the rule out for public comment in 30 days, the emergency rule dies, and they cannot file another emergency rule,” Wyrick said.
The lack of any payments to professional sports leagues under the state’s new sports betting law has been a bone of contention for the Justice administration, even before the bill passed the Legislature.
As the legislation legalizing sports betting was nearing passage in March, Gov. Jim Justice announced that, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports betting in most jurisdictions, he would call a special session to amend the legislation to include an “integrity fee” to be paid to the leagues from the state’s share of sports betting revenue.
The House of Delegates and the Senate had soundly rejected including such fees in the new law.
Shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the ban in May, Justice aide Bray Cary brokered a heated daylong meeting with affected parties at state Lottery headquarters, at the end of which Justice erroneously announced a deal had been reached on integrity fees.
Casino management feared that the Justice administration was holding up the emergency rule to add a requirement for the state’s casinos to contract with the pro leagues to purchase “official league data.”
John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Gaming and Racing Association, which represents the casinos, said Monday he is relieved that the administration has allowed the rule to move forward, saying he now believes they have exhausted all attempts to give the sports leagues a cut of the state’s sports betting revenue.
“I don’t know where they go from here,” he said. “hey’ve exhausted everything they could do.”
With the rule-making moving forward, the state casinos remain on track to launch sports betting at or near the start of football season, instead of having the process potentially delayed until March 2019, at the earliest.