West Virginia tracks could win with sports betting measure

WHEELING — Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort could get a boost if West Virginia allows sports betting, while hundreds of new jobs may come to the Northern Panhandle, new research shows.

State lawmakers have received a report from the Eilers and Krejcik gaming research firm proposing that 699 full-time jobs could come to local tracks in the next five years as a result of sports betting, with another 233 resulting elsewhere. They estimate a total of 931 additional full-time jobs in the state within a five-year period, and an economic impact of $229 million by the fifth year from sports betting.

Based on a proposed state tax rate of 10 percent on general gross revenues from sports betting, the firm also predicts an additional $13.4 million in annual tax revenue coming to the state in the first year of sports betting, with the amount rising to $28.7 million by year five.

Bills currently being considered by the West Virginia Legislature would make sports betting legal in the state if Congress acts to authorize sports wagering, or if the U.S. Supreme Court renders an opinion permitting states to start sports betting games. The bipartisan measures were crafted by lawmakers, who worked with officials from the West Virginia Lottery Commission.

The legislation would only allow the practice at the state’s casinos: Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack; Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort; the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson, W.Va.; and the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, near Charleston — and the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Under the legislation, the tracks would be in charge of their own sports books and monitoring of sports betting activities, but they would be under the supervision of the Lottery Commission.

“The Lottery Commission is overseeing sports betting, just as they do other casino gaming activities,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. “It is consistent with the West Virginia Constitution and will be implemented as such. Casinos already have the infrastructure in place and are already heavily regulated.”

The lottery will regulate sports betting in the same manner as other casino games offered at the tracks and the Greenbrier, said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.

“The casinos have the existing regulatory infrastructure in place, and the experience in the industry to implement sports betting in a secure environment and in a timely fashion,” he said.

Not only would West Virginians be permitted to wager on sports games under the legislation, they also could bet on specific aspects of the game — such as how many yards receiving Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will have in the third quarter, or the number of successful free throws completed by the West Virginia University basketball team in a specific game.

Because the tracks are offering these “in-game” bets, they would be responsible for having an employee monitor the games and keep track of such statistics, according to both lawmakers.

“Allowing in-game betting is critical for revenue generation and also helps shrink the current black market where these bets take place,” Fluharty said. “The tracks will establish their own lines and bets offered as long as those bets are within the parameters set by the West Virginia Lottery Commission.

“It is expected that more jobs will be added to the tracks to properly implement sports betting.”

Ferns said additional gaming products such as in-game betting should enhance player experience, and entice them away from sports betting in illegal formats. The games should be comparable or better to the office pool, he said.

“All aspects of sports wagering will be monitored and overseen in a secure manner that is approved by the West Virginia Lottery,” he said.

Sports organizations such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball would have no involvement in determining the type of bets offered by the tracks.

“Nor should they,” Fluharty said. “Sports books should operate independently. A regulated market is good for sports organizations. Sports betting keeps people interested in games and enhances the experience. In return, more people watch and participate.

“The value of all sports organizations will increase once sports betting comes out of the shadows and enters a regulated market.”

The legislation would also permit the creation of phone apps by the casinos for the purposes of sports betting, Ferns said. This would be available to those who already have player’s memberships previously established at the casinos. Others registering for the app online for the first time would have to provide information such as name, date of birth, Social Security number and address to verify their age.

And while a person wouldn’t have to be at the track to place a bet, they would have to be within the state of West Virginia, according to Ferns.

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