West Virginia Satellite Casino Bill Gets a Huge Senate Win

West Virginia could soon double its retail gambling sites once the House lawmakers agree with the Senate. This is after SB 62 easily passed a senate floor vote on February 28, 2023. Ideally, 25 senators voted in favor of the Satellite casino bill while eight others opposed it.

If this bill sees the light of day, it will allow the four racetrack operators in West Virginia to open a mini-casino at a secondary location. Senator Eric Nelson sponsored SB 62.

It was an uphill task because this was the state’s third attempt at a satellite casino bill. Usually, such a bill passes in one legislature and fails in the other.

Both the House and Senate have had at least one chance to pass the bill. However, it fails when it moves to the other legislature. The first bill was introduced in the House in 2019.

Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee killed it. In 2022, a similar bill was introduced in the Senate and passed only for the House Judiciary and Finance Committees to kill it.

The previous bills had varying flaws. But, these have been ironed out. For instance, the initial bill only favored Wheeling Island, a hotel-casino racetrack that was struggling to stand on its feet.

According to Senator Nelson, the latest bill’s effort is to revitalize the struggling shopping centers in West Virginia. This makes the bill sound inclusive.

A state like Pennsylvania has used a similar concept to revitalize shopping centers. The state has allowed several casinos to open second mini-casinos at vacant department stores that went out of business.

West Virginia has five gaming sites, including Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, and the Greenbrier.

Unfortunately, the Greenbrier cannot benefit from SB 62 because it is a standalone casino. The others are racetracks with permits for other gaming activities since 1994.

Restrictions for the West Virginia Mini-Casinos

Both West Virginia and Pennsylvania have similar intentions about having mini-casinos. However, the details are different.
For instance, Pennsylvania introduced a competitive bidding process allowing casinos to apply for Category 4 permits. This led to some casinos winning several mini-casino locations while others won none.

Meanwhile, West Virginia will allow one more casino location per racetrack operator. These new locations will have sports betting kiosks, table games, video lottery terminals, and parimutuel simulcast racebooks.

These locations do not have to be connected to racetracks. But, they will be subject to additional restrictions.

For instance, the operator will pay the annual fee for the existing license and $250k extra. Another restriction is that an operator can never reduce operations at the primary location.

Apart from that, the residents of the county hosting the mini-casino will vote to approve the new casino. Also, the mini-casino should be in the same county as the primary casino.

The West Virginia Lottery will decide how many tables, and machines mini-casinos will have. The number might be lower than 400, because the current primary gaming facilities have a limit of 400 video lottery terminals.

Short Legislative Sessions May Speed Up the Gambling Expansion

West Virginia usually has short legislative sessions. For instance, 2023’s session closes on March 11. So, the House has less than ten days to vote for SB 62.

Once the bill passes the House, Wheeling Island, and Mardi Gras will be the first to benefit from secondary locations. The two do not offer online casino games, even though they can, according to West Virginia laws.

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