In a whirlwind of governmental incompetence spanning less than two hours, West Virginia briefly approved betting on the 2020 Presidential election before abruptly pulling the plug.
Just before 7:30 p.m. local time on April 7, the FanDuel Sportsbook issued a press release under the heading “West Virginia Lottery Approves Wagers on 2020 Presidential Election.”
As part of the statement, FanDuel Group chief marketing officer Mike Raffensperger celebrated the iGaming titan’s status as the first regulated online / mobile sportsbook in America to gain approval for political betting:
“As the leading American sportsbook we’re excited to be the first to offer legal political betting, proving once again there truly are more ways to win on FanDuel.
We’re proud to have partnered with the West Virginia Lottery to bring these markets into a legal, regulated sportsbook where bettors have appropriate protections and assurances.”
The initial statement also provided prospective Presidential race bettors with their first look at wager types and opening odds:
- 2020 Presidential Election (Donald Trump -110, Joe Biden +125)
- Democratic Nominee (Biden -714, Andrew Cuomo +1400, Bernie Sanders +1600)
- Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee (Kamala Harris +188, Amy Klobuchar +400)
- US Presidential Election 2020 – Winning Party (Republican -125, Democrat -110)
- State by State Winning Party
The first press release also promised that FanDuel Sportsbook’s online / mobile app would begin accepting related wagers “immediately.” Meanwhile, the statement alluded to the FanDuel-operated brick and mortar sportsbook located within the privately owned casino The Greenbrier taking Presidential bets “eventually.”
The Greenbrier is owned and operated by the family of Governor Jim Justice (R).
But legal betting on Presidential politics wouldn’t last long, as the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office stepped in only hours later and put a stop to the proceedings.
State Government Agencies Contradict One Another Almost Immediately
Within an hour of FanDuel’s first statement, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Lottery told PlayWV.com that a miscommunication had occurred:
“It is my understanding that we were asked by the sportsbooks to allow betting on the presidential election and it is being reviewed.
I think possibly someone jumped before being given an approval.”
One hour later, FanDuel Sportsbook issued the following clarification:
“While the markets were approved, the West Virginia Lottery has asked FanDuel to refrain from offering the markets until they have time to fully work through the implications of this new market offering.”
By the following day, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner issued a terse statement clarifying his official stance on Presidential betting:
“Gambling on elections has been illegal in West Virginia since 1868.
Gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy.
Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
This is a terrible idea. Let’s shut this down right now and be very clear about it.”
Under section 3-9-1 of the state’s legal code, West Virginia bans bettors from wagering on any election held locally – including national Presidential races:
“It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in this state.
Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, he shall forfeit the value of the money or thing so bet or wagered and shall be fined not more than $50.”
Governor Initially Scoffs but Endorses Trump Bets; Quickly Backpedals
When asked about the prospect of legal political betting in his state, Justice – who owns The Greenbrier casino where FanDuel Sportsbook operates a physical venue – provided the following comments:
“I thought, you know, are you kidding me?
The first thing that came to my mind was, you know, what next?”
Despite that apparent reticence, Justice made sure to offer bettors a tip by endorsing fellow Republican and sitting President Donald Trump:
“I would tell everybody if you can bet on it and you choose to bet on it, bet on Trump because he’s going to win.”
On the same day, Justice reversed course by stating that he always opposed this particular expansion of West Virginia election betting:
“The very second I found out about it, I disapproved it because we’re not going to do that.
That’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s humorous but it’s ridiculous.”
To complete the almost immediate revocation of regulated betting on Presidential politics, West Virginia Lottery director John Myers confirmed that his office had acted prematurely:
“I didn’t inform the Governor about it.
I thought it would be okay, but after review, it was clearly a mistake. We just screwed up.
I didn’t have the authority to do it, it should have never happened, and I apologize to everyone.”