Safe Bet Show: Shawn Fluharty reveals how to pass sports betting and igaming legislation

Play ‘N Go Head of Government Affairs Shawn Fluharty is the latest industry mind to sit in the hot seat of the Martin Lycka Safe Bet Show, and he gave his explanation for why the rollout of sports betting has been quicker and more successful than online casino. 

Fluharty has enjoyed a distinguished career in which he has studied and practiced law (yes, he has appeared on a huge billboard) before becoming a Delegate in the West Virginia legislature. 

It was in his political career, which is still ongoing, that Fluharty enjoyed huge success, helping to pass both sports betting and online casino legislation, ensuring that West Virginia was an early mover for online regulated gambling. 

Fluharty noted that securing the regulation of sports betting and online casino was “one of my best accomplishments”. 

But Lycka and Play ‘N Go’s new Government Affairs lead discussed the differences between sports betting and online casino, given the latter is only live in six states compared to sports betting’s 37. 

Fluharty stated: “The benefit of sports betting compared to AI gaming is that sports betting has been ingrained in American society. The average voter understands it. And the average politician understands that the legislator has to make the decision on whether they vote for it or not, however, obviously, there are obstacles involved.

“People were complacent with sports betting ingrained in our society. There was no education gap in sports betting but that’s not the same with igaming, there’s an education gap between legislators and the public at large. I serve with a lot of people who struggle to silence their cell phones in a committee meeting. And now we’re trying to get them to understand how an icasino can be on their phone.

“This is clearly an education gap when it comes to those who are responsible for passing laws in this country. At the same time, there’s an education gap with the public so there’s a messaging error that has taken place, and igaming in my opinion for many years.”

But West Virginia has managed to jump both gaming hurdles, passing sports betting and online casino legislation in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Fluharty was asked to reminisce about the days when the bills were passing. 

He recalled that the legislation was being passed before the repeal of PASPA, thanks to his legal nouse to see that the Supreme Court’s decision was coming down the road. 

One of the major challenges, he recalled, was the opposition displayed by the sports teams and leagues, who were intent on integrity fees. 

Fluharty added: “The biggest opposition to sports betting were the leagues like they were showing up at the 11th hour. They wanted their integrity fee in West Virginia and other states at the time. Now you look up and they’re partnering with all these companies on the sports betting side. 

“It’s funny how that worked out a complete 180 position by the leagues. We were trying to get the bill passed, that was probably the biggest hurdle we had because they would bring in the lobbyists. They had meetings in West Virginia, I don’t think they were focused on our state, per se, they were focused on the precedent it would set if we were to pass legislation that didn’t include an integrity fee.”

Lycka alluded to his theory that “the honeymoon phase of regulated sports betting is over”, noting that there are regulatory crackdowns evidenced by removing bonus credits in several states.

Entain’s Regulatory Affairs lead asked Fluharty for his thoughts on this and he was largely in agreement with this. However, one key trend he envisages is multi-state cooperation for sports betting regulation. 

“Ohio just passed legislation related to player protection where if you threaten a player on social media, you’re not gonna be allowed to bet on sports. And you shouldn’t be. But we’re going to need cooperation between states because I border Ohio and Pennsylvania. If Ohio passes a law that says, hey, if you threaten a player, we’re going to take away your ability to bet but yet we don’t share that information with West Virginia, Pennsylvania, it really doesn’t have any teeth to it.”