A second sportsbook has opened for business in West Virginia. On Thursday, FanDuel Sportsbook at the Greenbrier Casino Club began taking its first sports wagers.
FanDuel Sportsbook at the Casino Club now joins the Sportsbook at Hollywood Casino as the state’s first two providers authorized to take sports wagers. The Sportsbook at Hollywood Casino opened on August 30th and enjoyed more than two weeks as the state’s sole sports betting provider.
While the Sportsbook at Hollywood Casino is open to all patrons 21 and over, FanDuel Sportsbook at Greenbrier will be restricted to a specific subset of guests. Under WV gaming law, the Casino at Greenbrier is restricted to overnight resort guests, members of the Sporting Club, members of the Golf & Tennis Club and to attendees of an event or convention staying off-property when more than 400 rooms are booked.
West Virginia law does permit online sports betting and FanDuel has confirmed its intention to offer online betting in WV, but how that will work with the Greenbrier’s unique casino restrictions remains to be seen. At least one local news source reports a Greenbrier Mobile app will allow customers to bet on sports from across the state.
Now that two sportsbooks are operational in West Virginia, that leaves three more casinos yet to open their own sportsbooks. All four of the state’s public casinos plus the private Greenbrier Resort are expected to have sports betting in place before the end of the year. The remaining casinos in WV that will likely open sportsbooks in coming months include:
- Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes
- Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in New Cumberland
- Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack in Wheeling
Each of the state’s five casinos will be allowed to operate up to three individually-branded betting sites, to potentially give WV residents their choice of 15 online sportsbooks. A start date for online sports betting in WV has not been announced.
Debate Over Integrity Fees, Data Flaring Up Again
Despite the first sportsbooks opening for business and taking their first wagers, the sports betting landscape is far from settled in West Virginia. A report on Monday from the West Virginia MetroNews shined some light on an undercurrent of competing interests below the surface.
At issue in West Virginia are the demands of pro sports leagues seeking integrity fees and data rights. The sports leagues have been pressing officials in West Virginia and other states to include provisions in sports betting legislation that would require sportsbook operators to rely on official data from the leagues and to pay the leagues an “integrity fee” equal to some percentage of total betting handle.
The official data angle comes from the leagues’ desire to have a monopoly over the data that sportsbook operators would use to settle wagers. That is, instead of watching the game like everyone else or contracting with a third-party data provider, operators would be required to use official data from the leagues – at a price, of course.
The major sports leagues have likewise asked for integrity fees on the justification that the leagues deserve to have some money returned to them from sports betting operators in order to help pay for increased costs associated with protecting the integrity of their games.
The leagues have also at times justified integrity fees as a sort of royalty fee that should be paid to the leagues for hosting the events that sportsbooks profit off of. The MLB’s Bryan Seeley once put it this way:
“For us, it’s not simply about whether we get a share of the profits, although we think that is appropriate given the billions of dollars we spend to put on the games.”
The debate over integrity fees and data rights between the sports leagues, operators and state lawmakers is nothing new and not unique to WV, but it is especially complicated in West Virginia right now. While other states have resoundingly rebuffed the sports leagues’ requests, the leagues apparently have just enough sway in West Virginia to complicate the issue.
Governor Jim Justice has been particularly sympathetic to the leagues’ requests and urged lawmakers, operators and sports leagues to work out a deal on integrity fees payable to the leagues.
WV representatives refused in favor of letting casinos and sports leagues work out deals in the free market, free of government mandate. In March, lawmakers passed the sports betting legalization bill without integrity fees or official data requirements. The WV Lottery Commission then got to work forming temporary emergency regulations that would cover until the Lottery Commission can institute permanent regulations.
Governor Justice opted to let the bill take effect without his signature, citing a conflict of interest due to his family’s ownership of the Greenbrier Resort. In addition to hosting a casino and sportsbook, the Greenbrier also hosts events for the PGA Tour and holds practices for NFL and NBA teams.
However, none of these potential conflicts of interest have stopped Governor Justice from interfering in other ways. The WV Gazette Mail reported last month that the Justice administration may have attempted to force the Lottery Commission to miss deadlines for the sports betting emergency regulations in order to go back and insert rules forcing sportsbooks to buy official data from the sports leagues.
The emergency rules were successfully filed on August 7th without integrity fees or official data requirements. That kicked off a 30-day comment period, which ended on September 7th. Now, the WV Lottery Commission must file the comments and responses.
To further complicated matters, the WV MetroNews has noted that the West Virginia Lottery Commission is undergoing a mysterious personnel shakeup. First it was the sudden resignation of the director of the WV Lottery Commission one day after the launch of sports betting.
Now, WV Lottery Managing General Counsel Danielle Boyd is missing in action and Lottery officials aren’t saying why she’s MIA or what her status is other than to say she’s still employed.
Leagues are still pushing for laws that will force sportsbooks to rely on official data for in-game wagering, to give the leagues authority over the types of bets that may be offered and to require additional information sharing between sportsbooks, the Lottery and the leagues for integrity purposes.
Most interestingly, Senator Craig Blair expressed significant frustration at the mysterious nature of the Lottery personnel shakeup and seemed to connect that to a last-minute attempt to change the sports betting rules in WV.
According to Legal Sports Report, Senator Blair said this at a meeting on Monday:
“I just want on the record that I’m disturbed that everybody in the lottery that helped educate us in the legislature on what was going on [is] nowhere around.
“And I would also encourage one other thing, that nothing happens – you can do whatever, but you don’t do it until the legislature is back in session.”
It’s a strange situation and the timing couldn’t possibly be worse as the first WV sportsbooks become operational.