West Virginia launches Online sports betting

CHARLESTON — The app is live, but the scope of the expected revenue gains from online sports betting in West Virginia remains to be seen.

"It's a very unknown subject as far as how much revenue growth there actually is," said Eric Althaus, president and general manager of Mardi Gras Casino, just before a Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new sportsbook and wagering app at the Cross Lanes, West Virginia, establishment.

West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers, who also attended the event, shared similar unknowns. While the state is trying to use Nevada's numbers as a model, at the end of the day, he said it's anyone's guess.

"We have some projections, but we didn't really have anybody to use as a precedent," Myers said. "The short answer is that we really don't have a hard figure that we're shooting for at this point."

Friday marked the openings of two physical sportsbooks in the state - those at Mardi Gras and the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in Wheeling. This comes one day after the state's first sports betting and mobile app launched Thursday, allowing any gamblers anywhere within state lines to place wagers from their cellphones.

The concurrent advances in the burgeoning field arrived, coincidentally or not, around two big events for the state: a bowl game and a legislative session.

Althaus cut the ribbon about six hours before kickoff at the Camping World Bowl game, in Orlando, Florida, between West Virginia University and Syracuse.

"We definitely wanted to (start with a) bang and go live on a day like today, with the West Virginia game, and a lot of excitement with the college bowl playoffs, and a lot of other bowl games, the last week of the NFL leading into the playoffs, and March Madness right around the corner," he said.

A new legislative session begins Jan. 9. The Legislature enabled sports betting legislation last session and rebuffed pressure from the professional leagues to impose an "integrity fee," or cut the leagues in on sports betting profits. The Legislature and the state Lottery also rebuffed pressure from both the leagues and Gov. Jim Justice over the summer to levy the integrity fees through either an amendment to the law or through the rules process.

Myers said the Lottery has no intention of pushing to revisit the issue, and he hasn't heard a word on it from Justice.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, a vocal backer of sports betting legislation earlier this year, attended the other, simultaneous ribbon cutting Friday in Wheeling. He said right now, with the exception of Pennsylvania, West Virginia has a regional monopoly in the industry, putting the state in a promising position to draw out-of-state visitors. The key, however, is the app.

"By far, the biggest advantage we have is we now have an app up and running," he said. "That's something only a handful of states have."

Althaus made similar remarks about the regulatory head start.

"It definitely plays in our favor, but it's a matter of time before other states are going to also go mobile," he said. "So we're going to take the advantage and make the guest experience as good as it can be up until other competitors enter the market."

Both Althaus and Fluharty said they wouldn't expect to see any movement on the integrity fees.

The app can be downloaded from the app store on mobile devices or at www.betlucky.com