Back on July 27, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia announced on Twitter that its new sportsbook would open in September, just in time for the gambling-intensive football season. This week, the state took a concrete step toward an actual opening date: the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the first day college football returns in full.
“We had hoped [all of the state’s casinos] would launch [sports gambling] at the same time and everyone would be up at the beginning of football season,” Danielle Boyd, managing legal counsel for the state Lottery Commission, told WVMetroNews.com in a story published Monday. “As we move forward, it appears that we’re going to have sort of a phased launch and it’s going to be a tiered approach. We’re just really excited to see that Charles Town will be ready to launch by Sept. 1.”
Charles Town, located in the panhandle of West Virginia near its border with both Maryland and Virginia, will become the closest casino to offer sports gambling for a sizable portion of the Washington area. In times of light traffic, it’s an approximately 75-minute drive from downtown D.C. and an even easier trip for residents of the area’s western suburbs. Sports gambling at the state’s four other casinos will come online at a later date.
Scott Saunders, Charles Town’s vice president and general manager, said Thursday in a telephone conversation that the casino is in “good shape” to meet Boyd’s Sept. 1 prediction, assuming construction, hiring and training go as planned. Charles Town also is in the process of remodeling its food court, and the sportsbook construction is being piggybacked on top of that and situated near the casino’s Skybox Sports Bar. Unlike some other casinos, which scrambled to open temporary sportsbooks after the Supreme Court ruling, Saunders said the Charles Town sportsbook location will be “as permanent as permanent can be as we figure out the business.” It also will be “as user-friendly as possible” for both experienced and novice gamblers, Saunders said.
An outside company will operate Charles Town’s sports-gambling operation, though Saunders declined to identify it as negotiations are ongoing. He said an announcement could come “any day now” and added that the casino plans a major advertising push in the Washington area to publicize its new offering.
“We’re going to go very heavy in the D.C. metro area,” Saunders said of the casino’s upcoming advertising campaign. “Because the population being what it is and us being the only game in town for some time, we really believe we have an advantage by getting open first and are really excited about it.”
The West Virginia state legislature had passed a law legalizing sports gambling in March with the expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the federal law known as PASPA, which limited the practice to only a handful of states. That ruling indeed came down in May, and West Virginia found itself well-positioned to become one of the first states outside of Nevada to offer full-scale sports gambling. The only hurdle left was for the Lottery Commission to file the state’s sports-gambling regulations, beginning a 30-day period of public comment. That happened Monday, two days before the commission’s self-imposed deadline.
Delaware, one of the states that previously was allowed to offer a limited form of sports gambling under PASPA, launched full-scale sports betting at three casinos in early June, though all three of those gambling parlors are slightly longer drives than Charles Town from much of the Washington area, requiring trips along some of the Mid-Atlantic’s most traffic-clogged highways. Farther to the northeast, New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks began offering sports gambling soon after Delaware. But Maryland, home to six casinos — including three in the Washington-Baltimore area — has yet to move forward. A bill calling for a voter referendum on sports gambling passed the House of Delegates but not the Senate this year, meaning any further legislation will have to wait until next year unless Gov. Larry Hogan calls for a special legislative session, which The Post’s Steve Thompson deemed unlikely in a story published in May. Therefore, the state might not see legal sports gambling at its casinos until 2020, at the earliest.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans, meanwhile, told The Post in May that he would like to move forward on legalized sports betting by the end of the year. There are no casinos in Virginia, though Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said last month that he foresees a “big push” to legalize sports gambling next year in the General Assembly and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe recently received federal recognition, allowing it to move forward with plans to build a casino in New Kent County, near Richmond.
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