CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Jan. 18, 2018) – A bill introduced in the West Virginia House would legalize sports betting in the state. Passage of this bill would set the stage to nullify federal prohibition in effect.
A bipartisan coalition of 11 delegates introduced House Bill 2751 (HB2751) on Jan. 10. The legislation would allow sports betting at West Virginia casinos. Under the proposed law, the state lottery commission would propose rules for legislative approval to establish a framework for sports betting in the state.
“The rules shall provide regulatory guidelines, without limitation, that include at a minimum, financial and betting reserve accounting practices and other necessary and appropriate requirements to properly assure financial viability and proper operation. The commission shall incorporate by reference in these rules appropriate statutes and other rules contained in and relating to article twenty-five of this chapter necessary to properly and effectively regulate sport pool betting activities; and provide for reasonable annual licensing fees, licensed gaming facilities sufficient for the commission to regulate this activity.”
In 1992, Congress enacted the Federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (28 U.S.C. Section 3701 et seq.), establishing a general prohibition on sports betting in the United States, and prohibiting state and local governments from authorizing sports betting.
The state of West Virginia is party to a lawsuit challenging federal prohibition. The state contends the U.S. Congress has no power to prevent state governments from authorizing sports betting as a form of gaming.
“Whereas our State Attorney General is challenging the usurpation of the federal government of state authority to regulate sports pool betting and has articulated in the briefs of the State of West Virginia in Cristie v. NCAA, 16-476, U.S. Supreme Court, that the U.S. Congress has no power to prevent state governments from authorizing sports betting as a form of gaming and therefore, the Legislature finds that it is reasonable and appropriate, for the State of West Virginia to proceed with legalizing sports pool betting pursuant to this article.”
While it appears based on the legislative findings in HB2751 that West Virginia would not move forward with sports betting if the Supreme Court does not overturn federal prohibition, passage of the bill would set the stage to simply ignore the federal law and allow sports betting anyway. This would create a situation similar to states that have legalized marijuana despite federal drug laws.
While federal prohibition would remain in place, passage of HB2751 would remove a layer of law prohibiting sports betting and would end any state enforcement of federal prohibition. This would leave the federal government to enforce its ban alone. The lack of resources makes it nearly impossible for the federal government to enforce any of its laws without state cooperation and resources. If West Virginia was to simply disregard the federal ban on sports betting, it seems likely the feds could not effectively enforce their ban.
Passage and implementation of HB2751 could effectively nullify the ban on sports betting within the borders of West Virginia regardless of what the Supreme Court ultimately decides. I multiple states followed West Virginia’s lead an legalized sports betting, it would certainly make federal prohibition impossible to enforce.