Note: Following the publication of this story Delaware North, owner of the three suspended WV sportsbooks, announced it was severing ties with Miomni, its sports betting provider. The company has been without sports betting for 23 days and there is no end in sight. Delaware North informed the West Virginia Lottery of its intent. Legal Sports Report has the full story. This is a developing story and we will continue to update as the situation warrants.
West Virginia Del. Shawn Fluharty is one of the driving forces behind West Virginia sports betting and WV online casino gambling legalization efforts. With the recent passage of the new online casino bill, he spoke with PlayWV.com about some of the issues facing the state.
One thing is certain, he believes sports betting and online gambling will be good for the state by generating much-needed revenue.
WV sports betting boosting the economy
While WV may have a small population, Fluharty, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, sees the gambling industry growing. Online casinos and sports betting are a big part of that, but the new efforts also strengthen the current casino industry.
“Online gaming will likely have a bigger impact than sports betting. If you look at the numbers and how it seems to be in other states and the revenue generation factor compared to sports betting, I think it’s a game changer.”
Enhancing those betting options allows the state’s casinos to compete better with those in nearby states.
“I think it’s part of our commitment in the state legislature to evolve this industry,” Fluharty says. “For many years, it kind of just sat there and we were complacent and we saw other states catch up to us.”
Fluharty on WV online casinos
WV sports betting became legal in 2018, with the first of five WV sportsbooks launching late Aug. 2018. The state approved online gambling in March 2019 with the launch of online casinos in West Virginia expected later in the year.
The legislation passed with bipartisan support and would allow any game found in a traditional casino including:
Fluharty talked about the prospect of online casinos launching this year:
“I fully expect it to be up and running and hopefully we don’t have the issues with it that we did with sports betting.”
The issues included a slow rollout that missed the beginning of the football season. Fluharty hopes operators move into the state quickly and partner with the state’s five casinos:
- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
- Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort
- The Casino Club at The Greenbrier
- Mardi Gras Casino & Resort
- Wheeling Island Hotel
Fluharty on the mishaps of WV sports betting
The recent closings of the Mardi Gras and Wheeling sportsbooks, as well as the BetLucky mobile sports betting app, have been frustrating. Fluharty believes the state has been a sports betting leader and on the right track.
Surrounded by large states, sports betting can complement its tourism industry, he says.
“We have a huge population base around us. So when people always ask us, ‘Why are you pushing sports betting? Why pushing so hard for online gaming?’ It’s the fact that I believe West Virginia should always try to compete with our neighbors instead of simply falling behind, which we’ve done for many years.
“It’s something to be proud of when we can say we’re one of what is now six states that jumped out in front of sports betting. Now we’re one of a handful with online gaming and we’re kind of looked as a frontrunner in this competition to evolve the industry. I think it’s a boon for tourism industry. I think everybody knows West Virginia is a destination location for tourism. This will only boost that and give a reason for people who live so close by to jump into West Virginia.”
With BetLucky closed, Fluharty expects other legal sports betting apps in WV to come online soon. He’s been told DraftKings Sportsbook should be up and running “shortly” but didn’t have a specific time frame. They now have an even bigger incentive to operate in the state.
Fluharty on the closed WV sportsbooks
The mobile and live sportsbook shutdowns have been a real frustration. The two casinos are operated by Delaware North, which partnered with online gaming operator Miomni Gaming on the BetLucky app and its retail operations.
Fluharty believes there are good days ahead, but the Delaware North situation was very poorly timed.
“I grew up and always we were always last. It was like West Virginia was a follower not a leader. So we finally do something right at the legislative level, which we really don’t have a lot to brag about these days, but we were competitive on sports betting.
“And then you see this happen and it’s certainly frustrating because from what I’m gathering there’s probably a lot of finger pointing involved. It’s out of the hands of the legislature at this point.”
The West Virginia Lottery Commission is charged with regulating sports betting as well as other gambling activity in the state. Fluharty is also frustrated some of the issues couldn’t have been discovered then.
“We put the responsibility on regulators to make sure things like this don’t happen. So if you’re the Lottery, you need to know every single entity that’s involved before allowing things to go live.”
Despite that, Fluharty believes the commission is capable of the job but should address the legislature if more resources are needed.
“At this point, I haven’t given any indication that they’re incapable of doing that,” he says of regulating sports wagering in the state. “I think they’re going to get things moving and do their homework with online gaming.”
Fluharty on the Wire Act
The Department of Justice reinterpreted the Wire Act in January so that it applies to more than just sports betting. Several states have launched legal actions to roll back that interpretation to protect online gaming and interstate compacts.
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission (NHLC) recently launched a lawsuit to protect its online lottery sales by forcing a ruling on the act. Fifteen other states and agencies have supported those efforts.
Fluharty doesn’t see the new opinion changing much in the long run for West Virginia or other states’ online gaming efforts. There just seems to be too much momentum.
“I don’t think it’s going to change anything,” he says. “Just like we saw PASPA sitting there forever, and how that law was plainly unconstitutional and had not been properly challenged.
“Thankfully, New Jersey stepped up to the plate and it ran its course all of the Supreme Court. That was based on antiquated law that was unconstitutional. I think the opinion coming from the Wire Act will follow along the same lines.”
Fluharty goes on to say:
“While the opinion may have come out and really kind of scared people that are in the business and regulators, you’re seeing a team of responses from states who are saying essentially, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going do it the right way, and you’re not going to get in our way.’ It’s just an example of Washington always sticking its nose in states’ rights and always wanting to get involved in everything under the sun.”
Fluharty on interstate compacts
The Wire Act reinterpretation points to interstate compacts like those for online poker being in violation. The new opinion has been cited as the reason by some states in stepping back from online gaming and mobile sports betting
Fluharty doesn’t see that as a reason to slow down those efforts.
“I don’t understand why some states are just saying, ‘We don’t care, we’re moving forward. Then others are apprehensive. Because at the end of the day, it will solve itself in court if need be. I would be very upset if West Virginia pumps the brakes while other states continue to move forward and generate revenue off of March Madness and other sporting events while we sit back and wait. I don’t think that’s something we should do.”
A court remedy, he says, will help clarify where the state’s efforts will lead. With a small population, potential online player pools would also be small without interstate compacts.
Fluharty believes West Virginia’s gambling legislation is constitutional and should move forward.
“I really think the interesting part is we’re worried that we can’t have these interstate compacts. But you’re going to see an interstate compact with all these states coming together and saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re going to move forward with this. Why are you stifling progression on this issue? Why are you stifling revenue generation, which benefits not just individual states but our country as a whole?’”