West Virginia Bill to Protect Athletes from Sports Betting Harassment Moves Through House

In a significant move towards safeguarding athletes from harassment linked to sports betting outcomes, the West Virginia House of Delegates has overwhelmingly approved HB 4700. The bill, passed by a resounding 90-1 vote, with nine abstentions, empowers the West Virginia Lottery Commission to prohibit individuals from engaging in sports betting if found guilty of harassing athletes, coaches, or officials during sporting events.

This legislative initiative positions West Virginia as the latest state to enact measures to curb undesirable behavior associated with sports betting.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), the bill’s primary author, emphasized that West Virginia sports betting is a privilege for its residents. He stressed the state’s obligation to shield athletes from harm and mitigate harmful conduct. Fluharty introduced the bill on January 15, following a similar attempt in 2023 that did not progress.

According to Fluharty, the legislation grants the West Virginia Lottery Commission the authority to uphold a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment. He underscored the importance of safeguarding player safety both on and off the field, particularly given the surge in sports betting participation and the accessibility of athletes through social media platforms.

If the bill receives Senate approval, the West Virginia Lottery Commission will establish a legislative rule delineating the grounds for potential bans on sports betting participation within the state. 

Qualifying Crimes Under HB 4700

HB 4700 outlines specific criteria for individuals to be included on the state’s roster of prohibited sports betting participants. The proposed law mandates that the commission establish a legislative rule detailing the circumstances under which patrons of sports gaming may be barred from engagement.

According to the bill, individuals convicted of misdemeanors or felonies related to assault or battery against athletic officials, athletes, or team personnel would face a ban from sportsbooks. Additionally, those found to have violated orders issued by the lottery commission risk exclusion from sports betting activities. Furthermore, individuals deemed by the commission to threaten the safety of participants and officials may also be placed on the excluded persons list.

If the legislation receives approval from the Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice (R), the lottery commission would be responsible for establishing a process for players, team members, and officials to file complaints regarding patron behavior. 

The commission would then investigate these claims to determine whether a ban is warranted. Individuals recommended for a ban would be entitled to a hearing before the commission implements the exclusion.

Responsible Gaming Legislation in West Virginia

Another notable gaming measure recently passed by the state House is the Responsible Gaming and Research Act, designated as House Bill 5668.

Cosponsored by Delegate Shawn Fluharty and Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay), HB 5688 aims to compel licensed internet gaming operators to share data to assist state agencies in developing more effective programs to address problem gambling.

The bill, which garnered an 84-12 vote in the House, mandates iGaming platforms and online sportsbooks to provide anonymous player behavior data to West Virginia University. This data would aid the state’s Department of Human Services in enhancing state-funded services related to responsible gambling and problem gambling. Notably, the shared data would be anonymized to exclude personal identifying information and would not be made public record.

West Virginia, recognized as one of only six states permitting online slots, table games, and sports betting, has referred HB 5688 to the Senate Judiciary Committee for initial review in the upper chamber. As West Virginia’s 2024 legislative session draws to a close this week, the fate of these crucial gaming measures hangs in the balance.

Ohio Sets Example

Ohio, bordering West Virginia, has already incorporated a similar provision targeting sports betting harassment in its 2024-2025 fiscal year budget. This provision empowers state regulators to impose permanent bans or place bettors on exclusionary lists if found guilty of threatening athletes over sporting events, marking the first-ever such provision approved by a state.

The impetus for action in Ohio emerged in January 2023 following reports of incidents involving bettors threatening members of the University of Dayton’s men’s basketball team. Following a request from the NCAA, the state’s recent approval of a ban on player-specific college prop bets underscores growing concerns over harassment directed at athletes in the context of sports betting.


About the Author
Nikhil Kalro

Nikhil Kalro

Nikhil Kalro covers the sports betting industry and revenue reporting at Gaming Today. Much of his work analyzes state revenue information, including betting activity and revenue for individual states and sportsbook operators. In addition, Nikhil provides news updates on the gambling industry itself, including product launches and legal issues. Nikhil’s previous experience includes five years with ESPN.

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