Only on 7News, Ohio County Delegate Shawn Fluharty is questioning the legality of what he calls a “back door meeting” held on Wednesday with West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, the Lottery commission, the state’s licensed casino operators and the sports consortium on sports betting and the integrity fee.
Delegate Fluharty says he’s now considering taking action in circuit court to remedy the situation.
The West Virginia legislature passed a bill to legalize sports betting in its last session earlier this year and now the state is waiting on a Supreme Court to decide if it’s legal across the United States.
As a result of Wednesday’s meeting, Governor Justice said in a press release that a tentative agreement was reached and work will now begin on ways to implement an integrity fee, as well as to determine if any formal legislation is needed.
Governor Justice stood firm in that same press release saying that no part of the integrity fee would be paid by the state.
He referenced Wednesday’s meeting saying negotiations were difficult:
“This was a difficult negotiation between many different parties, but the outcome will be very good for the State of West Virginia as well as the sports leagues.”
He also added that money received by the state from betting will be used to benefit West Virginia residents, pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
Some in the House of Delegates don’t believe it.
“His answer is he wants to go back, re-open something that’s already been signed, sealed and delivered and give money that’s currently going to West Virginians and give it to billionaire leagues outside of West Virginia because coincidentally they hold functions at The Greenbrier where he may or may not make a good bit of money from it,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio).
Delegate Fluharty is also questioning the meeting where these decisions on the integrity fee were made, saying it violates the state’s open meetings law because it wasn’t open to the public and no notice was given.
He also explained that at this meeting there was the intent of public or government action taking place, another reason why he feels it falls under the open meeting law.
“If we’re talking about integrity fees, I think we need more integrity in our government right now,” he said. It’s a clear infraction of that law, which we have on the books for a reason. That reason’s to keep from back door deals taking place involving the government and it shouldn’t’ be headed up by our own Governor.”
Fluharty was a heavy supporter of the initial sports betting legislation, but says this closed door meeting is possibly a misdemeanor, and he’s considering filing a suit in circuit court.
“I think there are certainly many people who agree with me in that realm and would like to see whatever happened at that meeting come to light,” Fluharty added. “You can’t keep things in the darkness and expect the legislature to follow through and say ‘oh hey we reached a deal now all 130 of you have to agree to it’. That’s not how this works.”
We reached out to Governor Justice’s office for comment on this issue.
Director of Communications Butch Antolini told 7News:
“As for the sports betting tentative agreement, the process is still in the very early stages and many details still need to be worked out. There is no other comment and no other information available at this time.”
When asked about Delegate Fluharty the Governor’s Office said “there is no comment”.