MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A bill that would make fantasy games lawful and exempt from criminal penalties or sanctions in West Virginia passed with a bipartisan affirmative vote of 18-16 in the Senate during the Thursday legislative session.
Five Democrats and 13 Republicans voted in favor of House Bill 529. Two Eastern Panhandle Republican senators-Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and Charles Trump, R-Morgan-co-sponsored the legislation.
“I find it ironic that many of the Democrats who brought us gambling of so many different flavors opposed allowing hundreds of thousands of our citizens to legally participate in this form of entertainment,” Blair said. “I personally believe that it was because, in their view, there’s nothing that should not be taxed.”
Both Democratic Eastern Panhandle senators-Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and John Unger, D-Jefferson-voted in opposition to the bill.
“Out-of-state gambling special interests are dumping lots of dark money in the West Virginia Legislature to get this bill passed to legalize this gambling activity that targets children and youth,” Unger said. “I am particularly troubled on how these out-of-state gambling predators are targeting our children and youth through the Internet.”
Senators Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, Ron Stollings, D-Boone, Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, also sponsored the legislation.
A fantasy game refers to any fantasy or simulation sports or educational game or contest that makes the value of prizes and awards for winning participants known before partaking in the game, and all winners are determined based on knowledge and skill accumulated from statistical results, according to language in the bill.
A floor amendment proposed by Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, which would define a fantasy game operator and would make it mandatory for a fantasy game operator to register with the West Virginia Attorney General and pay an initial registration fee of $250,000, was rejected during the Wednesday session with a voice vote.
Blair, a proponent of the legislation, sees the passage of this bill as a quest for freedom.
“Playing fantasy sports is legal under federal law in both the United States and Canada,” Blair said. “West Virginia, freedom knocked on our door again today.”
Unger, who feels the bill is an expansion of gambling in West Virginia, has concerns about the legislation.
“We need to protect our children and youth from these special interest predators who prey on our children to make a buck,” Unger said. “It saddens me that the West Virginia Senate voted today (Thursday) for the out-of-state money interests over protecting our West Virginia children and youth.”
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Other bills that passed during the Thursday legislative session in the W.Va. Senate were:
SB 315, which would provide for the construction of a statewide fiber optic broadband infrastructure network, passed 29-5.
SB 400, which would reduce the amount of sales tax proceeds dedicated to the School Major Improvement Fund, passed 30-4.
SB 424, which would allow fire departments to assess fees, passed 34-0.
Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.