Lawmakers heard an update about the implementation of the sports wagering bill and also expressed concerns about whether there would be potential changes to emergency rules.
Legislators heard from Acting State Lottery Director Doug Buffington in Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance. Buffington became acting lottery director earlier this month following the resignation of Alan Larrick. Buffington explained the progress of implementing Senate Bill 415, which authorized wagering on certain sports and went into effect in May.
Buffington said the first casino operator license was issued to Hollywood Casino in Charles Town on Aug. 14. This was followed by Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras on Aug. 20 and The Greenbrier on Aug. 22.
He said Hollywood hosted a soft opening on Aug. 30 and a grand opening on Sept. 1. He said that first weekend generated about $295,000 in tax revenue.
Buffington said The Greenbrier hosted a soft opening Sept. 13 and a grand opening Sept. 14.
For Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras, the soft opening is scheduled for Sept. 27, Buffington said.
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, asked about emergency rules enacted and whether the lottery was contemplating changes of those rules.
Buffington said there had been comments from leagues regarding official data, which he said uses results from a source such as Major League Baseball. He said there have also been comments on opting out from certain wagers.
Espinosa asked if the Lottery has had conversations with major sports leagues on proposed changes. Buffington said he didn’t know whether the Lottery Commission or Larrick had those conversations but said he had not personally had those conversations.
“I hope you really will consider the fact that there is virtually no support in the Legislature to require private entities to enter into contractual agreements,” Espinosa said. “I hope the commission will think long and hard before implementing any changes in the emergency rules requiring casinos to enter into those arrangements.”
House Finance Chair Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, asked if the lottery had a timeframe to act on the comments. Buffington said there is no exact date. He said the comment period ended about a week ago. In response to a question from Nelson, Buffington said the emergency rules by the Legislature are in effect and any changes to those would have to go before the Legislature.
Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkely, said he doesn’t want to see any changes to the emergency rules.
“These tracks and casinos put their resources on the line to put in place sports gambling,” Blair said. “To come in and change the game before we come back and say it’s not the will of the Legislature, is irresponsible. … That’s telling to any industry wanting to come to West Virginia that we’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
The committee also heard from Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch. Crouch updated lawmakers on supplemental appropriations and expenditures to help address the opioid crisis.
Crouch said the drug problem is closely correlated with the child welfare crisis in West Virginia. He said 85 percent of kids in foster care are there because of parents dealing with substance abuse. Crouch said from 2015-2017, there was a 37.6 percent increase in overdose deaths. Over that same period of time, there was a 35.8 percent increase in foster care placement.
“We are tackling the child welfare problem at the same time we are tackling the drug problem,” Crouch told legislators.
Crouch said there has been federal legislation with the Family First Prevention Act, which would allow the DHHR to try to keep children in their homes. The law does not take effect until October 2019.
“This is a huge change in how we are able to deal with the child welfare problem,” Crouch said. “We are looking at those regulations seriously.”
Crouch said the agency is also looking at developing more partnerships with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. He estimated there are 19,000 people who are incarcerated who need treatment. He said the agency also is working with the courts on looking into alternative sentencing guidelines.
“If we get individuals into treatment, ultimately, that’s the goal. That’s what we want to see,” Crouch said.