The head of the West Virginia Lottery says online betting could very well make a return to the state by football season, in an interview with PlayWV.
Lottery Director John Myers said he was hopeful there might be a WV sportsbook app up and running in the coming weeks, but stopped short of guranteeing it.
Three online sportsbooks in the queue
Although three online sportsbooks have applied for licensure, Myers said there are still some regulatory kinks to work out. Testing continues to meet regulatory approval with hopes betting on West Virginia football and the NFL will commence before kickoff.
“There is a good chance of a mobile wagering app being ready by football season,” Myers said. “The lottery will be testing two mobile apps in the near future.”
As of now, there are three live sportsbook options for WV bettors.
Testing continues for WV sportsbook apps
The lottery giving the green light, however, isn’t the only hurdle in opening the virtual betting windows. Once an app is approved, they also must receive a go-ahead from online distributors.
“Other parts have to fall in place,” Myers said. “In addition to having an approved mobile app, there are items that the lottery or the service provider cannot control. One example would be the process required to make such an app part of the App Store.”
Wire Act remains a problem in WV
The sportsbooks continue to work on their mobile apps and receive feedback from the lottery. Myers noted that the Wire Act remains an obstacle for operators. Some apps submitted to the state, he says, didn’t meet requirements under the law.
“There is no holdup from the state side,” he says. “The lottery has told them how a mobile system needs to be set up since 2018. Some of our management services providers initially provided a system that did not meet those requirements and the lottery denied approval of those based on the requirements of the Federal Wire Act.”
Additionally, Myers said his office sought direction from the attorney general. The AG’s office made the recommendation for a similar system setup as the lottery.
That includes adherence to the Wire Act. Some WV compliance issues have also caused some problems with functionality in other states. In one case, that led to non-implementation.
“While the decision to enforce these requirements has not been popular with everyone, the ultimate goal is to make sure that lottery employees, the management services providers [MSPs], and the citizens who place a wager are protected,” Myers said.
“One service provider did submit a plan that the lottery approved, however, the provider found that it would cause issues outside of West Virginia and they decided not to implement it.”
There is an ongoing federal court case about the Wire Act, as well, unrelated to what is going on in West Virginia.
Still working with sportsbook operators for kickoff
Rumors have swirled over the last few months that a platform would launch soon. Intervening weeks seem to have proved those unfounded.
Myers didn’t provide a date to look for final implementation but said regulators are working on solutions.
“We continue to have discussions with the operators and additional management services providers,” he said. “This again is not a function the lottery can control beyond approving an application. The number of operators was set at five by the initial law as written. Each operator can have up to three skins.
“The contract between a skin and an operator is just that. The lottery determines if they are qualified to do business in West Virginia, however whether an operator has one skin or three is up to the operator.”
Compliance issues continue to be an obstacle
Pennsylvania went live with online mobile wagering in May. The state already has four mobile operators and has seen significant revenue from wagering.
Total handle in PA was $60 million in July. With football now in the mix and more online betting in the state, that number should see a bump in the coming months.
Del. Sean Fluharty (D) helped lead the effort at legalization and expressed frustration this week with the delay.
“At this point, I would say mobile sports betting has continued a disturbing trend in West Virginia where the legislature passes a law and those responsible for implementing the law drag their asses,” he told PlayWV. “I’ve seen little to no interest from state regulators in getting mobile sports betting up and running. They have shown zero urgency.”
Myers reiterated the holdup in WV hasn’t come from regulators dragging their feet. He notes that his office continues to work toward sports betting coming online.
“Comments that say the state has been the issue are misinformed,” he says. “The bill that authorized sports wagering in West Virginia did not give the lottery authority to implement a system, rather management services providers and the operators must do that.
“The lottery’s role is to enforce legal compliance. The submissions that the lottery felt would not violate federal law have resulted in approval by the West Virginia Lottery within the same week that the testing was initiated.”
Two live sportsbooks still closed, but hopes for reopening
West Virginia hasn’t had a mobile app since the BetLucky app closed in March. That issue remains a legal mess at this point.
Delaware North’s Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island sportsbooks also shut down as a result. Those closings have added to the frustration of many bettors.
— Brett H Clough (@Crett_H_Blough) August 9, 2019
As a rural state with only five casinos, many bettors still live far from a live sportsbook. Mobile wagering would alleviate that issue.
Some near the Pennsylvania border have already planned to head north for football wagering. That results in missed potential revenue to casinos and the state.
Others continue to use illegal offshore sportsbook and their “local guy” bookie. These were aspects of the industry expected to dwindle away with legal options. Myers did at least offer some hope the other two sportsbooks are working to reopen.
“I have been told by Delaware North management that they are negotiating to replace their initial system,” Myers said, “but we have not received any plans or requests from them.”
In the meantime, the NFL preseason enters Week 2 and WVU kicks off about two weeks. Bettors are watching the clock.