Not So Fast: Sports Betting Delayed At Mardi Gras And Wheeling Island

Written By Bart Shirley on October 1, 2018 - Last Updated on January 19, 2019
WV sportsbook delay

Two West Virginia casinos have delayed the debuts of their sportsbooks.

The parent company of both Mardi Gras Casino and Wheeling Island Casino — Delaware North — informed state lottery officials that neither casino would open a sports betting facility on schedule.

Both casinos had planned to open their books at the end of September. Lottery officials gave no specific reason for the delay.

However, West Virginia Lottery spokesman Randy Burnside told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the commission expected to schedule testing at both facilities during October. There is no given timeframe for the debut of either sports wagering facility at this time.

Both casinos missing out on football season

The announcement came as a surprise due to the fact that both casinos had seemed on track to open by the end of last month. Since football season in the US carries the highest volume of wagering on sports, there was a bit of a hustle to get a sportsbook off the ground.

That fact propelled one of the casinos’ competitors, Hollywood Casino Charles Town, to move as quickly as possible and open before the first kickoff. Erich Zimny, vice president of racing and sports operations of the casino, has said as much previously.

However, it appears that neither Mardi Gras or Wheeling Island are as concerned about getting on the field. Considering that both already have their permits in hand, the problem has to be with some sort of technical or logistical issue.

West Virginia politics are making sports betting messy

It is also possible that both casinos or their parent company is receiving some sort of political pressure. The past few weeks have seen a shakeup at the lottery commission that has left at least one legislator “disturb(ed) as hell.”

Two major figures at the commission have exited under curious circumstances. Director Alan Larrick resigned the day after sports betting launched. General counsel Danielle Boyd is serving a suspension for an indeterminate cause and length of time.

Both absences, particularly Boyd’s, are rumored to be the result of pressure from the governor’s office. Both Larrick and Boyd are opponents to any fees or payoffs to sports leagues.

Gov. Jim Justice, however, has only balked at the idea that the state should pay the fees, not the idea of fees themselves. In fact, it’s possible that he has actively campaigned for casinos to pay the leagues directly.

Justice reportedly urged the state’s casinos to work with the sports leagues in a commercial agreement shortly after sports betting became legal. The governor’s comments came during a meeting organized by his special adviser, Bray Cary.

It’s tough for Justice to avoid the appearance of impropriety

Justice is in a unique position as both a chief executive and a business owner. He has deep ties to most major sports leagues due to his ownership of The Greenbrier Resort.

His property has played host to spring training for both the NFL’s Houston Texans and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. The Greenbrier’s golf course hosts an annual PGA Tour event.

On the other hand, The Greenbrier also owns and operates The Casino Club at Greenbrier, which contains a FanDuel Sportsbook. That fact makes Justice the only current US governor to hold a major position in a casino property.

He wisely chose to recuse himself from signing the sports betting bill due to the inherent conflict of interest. However, it seems that he may not be above some back channel communication to help out his friends.

Of course, whether this political muddiness delayed Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island from opening their books is pure speculation. It’s also possible that it’s just not that easy to build a sportsbook.

We can only wait and see.

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Bart Shirley

Bart Shirley is a writer who covers the NJ online gambling industry as well as a poker player from Houston, Texas. He has a master's degree in business administration from Texas Christian University and a degree in English from Texas A&M. In his spare time, Bart teaches math and business at Memorial High School in Houston.

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