West Virginia Bill Would Allow Satellite Casinos

Mardi Gras Hotel and Casino in West Virginia

Lawmakers in West Virginia are making another push to legalize satellite casinos in the Mountain State. Last week, the Senate Finance Committee of West Virginia approved SB 100. Now that it has passed through the committee stage, the bill can go to the full Senate. The proposed changes would allow West Virginia casinos to expand their operations.

If passed, SB 100 would allow licensed operators to set up satellite casinos. These smaller casinos must be located in the same county as the licensees’ existing casino. Senator Eric Nelson, the sponsor of the bill, hopes that satellite casinos can help rejuvenate slumping economies.

Passing through the Senate Finance Committee is just one step in the process. Now SB 100 must pass through the full Senate. If it passes through the senate, the bill will be law. However, operators will need to receive county and state approval to open satellite operations.

SB 100 is not the first attempt at bringing satellite casinos to West Virginia. A similar bill was proposed in 2019 but failed to garner enough support. Part of the shortcoming of the previous bill may have been due to it being sponsored by a casino operator. SB 100 is sponsored by a state legislator, so it should have an easy time building support.

What is West Virginia SB 100?

Senate Bill 100 was introduced in January by West Virginia Senator Eric Nelson. If passed, SB 100 would amend existing state codes to allow casino licensees to open additional locations in counties with existing operations. The bill has passed through the committee and now heads to the full Senate.

The purpose of the bill is to allow casino operators to expand into new markets. If it succeeds, licensed operators can open new casinos in areas that may have difficulties accessing the existing operations. With other parts of the economy struggling, increasing casino revenues could help boost many other industries in the state.

Getting approval from the Senate will bring satellite casinos one step closer to opening up in West Virginia. Operators would still need to receive approval from county voters before opening a satellite casino. They would also need permission from West Virginia’s Lottery Commission.

Why do Lawmakers Want Satellite Casinos?

Satellite casinos would offer gaming operators the chance to expand their business into new territories. The growing interest in gambling across the country could help the bill gain traction. Sen. Nelson and other supporters are hoping that satellite casinos can help jumpstart struggling areas of the economy.

For instance, Sen. Nelson has suggested opening a casino in the Town Center Mall in downtown Charleston. The mall itself has plenty of space available for a new casino. For instance, the former Macy’s building, which has been empty since the store closed in 2019. Bringing new customers to the mall would help other struggling businesses that are still operating.

Nearby businesses in the downtown area could also benefit from the increase in activity. The nearby Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center was recently renovated and would benefit from the new attraction. If the casino increases business at the Civic Center, it could help pay for the recent renovations.

If SB 100 is approved, Sen. Nelson already has an operator in mind for Charleston. Nearby Mardi Gras Casino, located less than 20 miles from downtown, could apply for a satellite casino license. Opponents of the bill have expressed concerns about new operations pulling money away from existing casinos. However, those who support the bill are hopeful that it will instead allow new bettors easier access to the industry.

How Does SB 100 Differ from Previous Satellite Casino Bills?

This is not the first time that West Virginia lawmakers have discussed a satellite casino bill. In 2019, Wheeling Island casino owners pushed for a similar bill to be passed. Wheeling Island wanted to option to operate a satellite casino after construction on I-70 cut off bettors from accessing their current location.

The 2019 bill failed to receive enough support in the Senate. Many have suggested that strong support from one gaming operator may have doomed the bill. This time around, the satellite casino bill has stronger support from legislatures.

According to executive director John Cavacini, the West Virginia Gambling and Racing Association did not ask for Sen. Nelson to reintroduce the bill. The lack of pressure from the state’s gaming operators could make the bill more palpable to voters.

The economic opportunities could also help the state recover from the pandemic. Added pressure to help businesses bounce back could sway more voters to support the bill. New casinos would create new jobs and generate new revenue for many state programs. They could also increase traffic at the local businesses that are nearby the casinos.

Conclusion

The West Virginia casino industry could be on the verge of a major expansion. In January, Sen. Eric Nelson introduced SB 100 which would allow for satellite casinos in the state. To qualify, existing licensees would be limited to counties that they already have casinos in. They would also be subject to county and state Lottery Commission approval.

So far, SB 100 has passed through a committee and will now go to the full Senate for approval. Previous satellite casino bills have failed to pass through the senate. In 2019, a similar bill was proposed by Wheeling Island casino operators. Their bill aimed to help offset business that was being lost from construction on I-70.

SB 100 has two main factors that should help it be more successful than previous bills. In 2019, many voters were turned off by the bill being supported so heavily by one operator. This time around, there are no specific operators sponsoring the West Virginia Senate bill.

The second major difference is that many industries need help recovering from the pandemic. Some areas, such as downtown Charlestown, were struggling economically even before the pandemic. New casinos would help generate jobs and revenue in key areas across the state. They would also help attract business to nearby establishments that would benefit from the increase in customer traffic.