Just over a week ago, a bipartisan group of West Virginia delegates introduced a WV online casino gaming bill that looked promising. The excitement is palpable after several years of struggles trying to get support behind similar bills.
Fast forward to Tuesday and H 2934, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wager Act cleared its latest, and what some believe to be its toughest, hurdle toward passage.
After voting on a few amendments, the House Judiciary voted to pass the bill out of its committee and on to the Finance Committee.
Last night, however, Del. Eric Householder, chairman of the Finance Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, moved to dispense of the second reference. As such, the bill will be on its first reading on the floor today with a vote in the House on Friday. Then it heads to the Senate.
Delegates debate tax rate and wording
The bill initially sported a 10 percent privilege tax on WV online gambling revenue, similar to WV sports betting.
On Tuesday, a 15 percent tax was taken up for consideration. And just like some delegates believe the sports betting tax is too low, some think the tax on online gambling is too low.
Del. Tom Fast introduced an amendment that would tax WV online casinos at a significantly higher 35 percent rate. There was quite a bit of debate on the issue.
In the end, however, Del. Shawn Fluharty, a co-sponsor of the bill made it clear that a 35 percent tax would kill the bill.
Del. Moore Capito agreed with Fluharty:
“If you see value in this legislation, and it’s something that you think puts West Virginia in a place where you want West Virginia to be, you’ll vote down the amendment. If you don’t like the bill, and you don’t like any of what’s in the bill, then you’ll probably want to vote for the amendment.”
The amendment was rejected, and the 15 percent online gambling tax rate was approved.
The bill now heads to the floor, but not without first removing the phrase “crime of moral turpitude.” Del. Geoff Foster introduced the amendment to remove the outdated language that was included in original WV Lottery legislation to weed out potential nefarious license applicants. It has since found its way into several bills without a serving a real purpose because of its lack of specificity.
WV satellite casino bill also moves forward
Another bill that would expand casino gambling in the Mountain State is making its way toward a vote. If passed, HB 2901 would allow licensed racetracks to open a satellite casino within the same county.
Del. Erikka Storch, is a co-sponsor on the online gaming bill and lead sponsor on this one. She introduced the bill because she represents the district that includes Wheeling Island Hotel which is facing challenges due to its location and potential for flooding.
“We’re just trying to get in front of the construction and avoid loss of revenues. We just want to give them some flexibility and some visibility.”
There is concern that the bill isn’t specific enough about location requirements. Douglas Buffington, representing the Lottery Commission assured the committee that any application would be vetted to ensure any new location adheres to local laws and zoning ordinances.
WV casinos in the spotlight
According to US News and World Report, the economy of West Virginia ranks 49th. The Mountain State took a huge step forward in improving that statistic.
Today, all eyes are on WV casinos as the two bills move toward floor votes this week. We’ll know the fate of them within three weeks. The WV legislature is in session through March 9.
For now, though, there is a good chance WV will be one the fourth state in the country with legalized online gaming and sports betting.
Fluharty, referencing poker in a tweet said it best,
“Unless there’s a nasty card on the river, we’re looking good for full passage.”