WV Governor Didn’t Approve Presidential Election Betting
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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he was not informed the state lottery had approved FanDuel’s launch of U.S. presidential election betting Tuesday night.
"The very second I found out about [the political betting], I disapproved it because we're not going to do that," Justice said.
Justice, whose family owns The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs that houses a FanDuel sportsbook, said in his coronavirus briefing that "we had it shut down immediately," according to MetroNews in West Virginia.
West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers said in a statement to Bookies.com that he made a mistake by not informing the governor about the decision to allow FanDuel to briefly post presidential odds.
“I thought it would be OK, but after review, it was clearly a mistake," Myers said. "We just screwed up. I didn’t have the authority to do it, it should have never happened and I apologize to everyone.”
FanDuel was briefly hailed as being the first American sportsbook to offer U.S. presidential election odds. European bookmakers, including Ladbrokes and 888sport, have long presented political wagering, including markets on American elections.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said Wednesday morning that betting on elections is illegal in the state.
"Gambling on elections has been illegal in West Virginia since 1868," Warner said in a statement sent to Bookies.com. "Gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.
"This is a terrible idea. Let’s shut this down right now and be very clear about it."
RELATED: More on West Virginia sports betting
When questions were raised about whether state law allowed for political betting, FanDuel pulled the presidential election odds shortly after posting them.
"While the markets were approved, the West Virginia Lottery has asked FanDuel to refrain from offering the markets until they have time to fully work through the implications of this new market offering," FanDuel said in a statement. A spokesman also said the company would not comment further on conversations with regulators.
Before issuing his statement Wednesday, Warner told MetroNews that “somebody jumped the gun” and said his office would be looking into how it happened. His office later said it could not confirm the existence of an investigation because of state code, but said the secretary would be in contact with the governor’s office and the state lottery on how to proceed.
State Statute Addresses Election Betting
”West Virginia statue 3-9-22: Wagering Or Betting On Elections; Penalties” seems to spell out that the practice is illegal:
”It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in this state. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, thereof, he shall forfeit the value of the money or thing so bet or wagered and shall be fined not more than $50.”
But state Rep. Shawn Fluharty, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District and is a strong proponent of expanding gaming options in West Virginia, said Wednesday he doesn’t agree that the chapter that includes the statute precludes betting on the presidential election.
“I believe Chapter 3 explicitly deals with how elections are conducted in West Virginia. That encompasses, for example, election commissioners, poll clerks, etc.,” he said in an email to Bookies.com. “The use of ‘person’ in this subsection deals with those individuals who have an inherent role in the outcome of an election held in West Virginia. Thus, they don’t want those people voting in elections where they have direct involvement which makes perfect sense.
“In fact, arguably, Chapter 3 only deals with elections entirely conducted in our state, it mentions elections of state and federal officers (WV Representatives), but does not mention presidential elections. Thus, even broadly interpreted to include all West Virginians, I think you could argue that bettors couldn’t bet on say, who would win a congressional race in West Virginia or a state race, however, they’re not prohibited from betting on national elections — i.e. — presidential elections.”
West Virginia Lawmakers Sought New Betting Markets
West Virginia Senate Bill SB-788, introduced by in mid-February with Eric Tarr, a Republican representing the 4th District as lead sponsor, sought to allow betting on political contests. The current legislative session in West Virginia has ended.
Fluharty said he wants to see West Virginia “get out in front on this new betting market in the United States which is an inevitable market that is currently offered, just in an illegal, unregulated format.”
”We knew this type of market would be the next phase of betting being offered (along with things like the Emmys, Oscars etc.) and that’s why our legislation was intentionally broad to allow for regulators and operators to eventually enter this area,” he said in his email. “I know New Jersey has contemplated doing the same thing and I would like for West Virginia to be the first to do so.
”When we passed sports betting in West Virginia, we did so prior to (The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) being overturned. The goal was to put West Virginia at the forefront of this issue and to continue to grow our state as a leader in this area. I see this move as just another step in doing just that.”
With the vast majority of U.S. sports shut down for an undetermined period in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, operators have been seeking alternative markets to offer. E-sports wagering is legal in Nevada, West Virginia and four other states. FanDuel is hosting free daily fantasy sports contests on video game simulations of NFL games.
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office cited an order from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission prohibiting trading on political events. The order reads, in part:
“WHEREAS, the Political Event Contracts can potentially be used in ways that would have an adverse effect on the integrity of elections, for example by creating monetary incentives to vote for particular candidates even when such a vote may be contrary to the voter's political views of such candidates.”
Other legal betting states will be closely watching the developments on election betting in West Virginia. Indiana officials said they had no plans to offer such wagering. New Jersey officials said betting on elections is not authorized in the state, and they would not have further comment.