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Just a roll of the dice

Last week, I told you I was seeking more answers to how the West Virginia Lottery went about approving elections betting for the sports betting app used by the Greenbrier Resort. I won’t dive into the whole thing, as I had a full story last week with a timeline of events. In short, DraftKings and Hollywood Casino in Charles Town had asked about the possibility. A deputy at the Lottery then asked the two sportsbooks at the Greenbrier Resort — FanDuel and BetMGM — if they were interested as well.

That’s right, the Lottery pitched the Greenbrier’s two sportsbooks, not vice versa. All of this took place in one afternoon April 7. Both FanDuel and BetMGM jumped at the chance to offer elections betting. Later that day, the Lottery approved all three sportsbooks to set up election betting for national races only.

Apparently, the Lottery wasn’t expecting one of those companies – FanDuel – to set up a market so quick. By that evening, they had sent a press release to the Lottery to look over and went live with election betting. It was live for two hours before coming down, with FanDuel evening sending the Lottery the statement they were sending media explaining that they had approval but were pulling the market from their phone app until details were worked out.

My Freedom of Information Act request helped answer some of the questions I had from last week. It also created new questions.

What transpired between when FanDuel launched the elections betting market on their phone app? Emails from the Lottery to BetMGM and DraftKings show that they asked them to hold up as they were re-considering the approval they granted earlier that day. DraftKings even emailed the Lottery to let it know the FanDuel market was still online.

What we don’t know, and what the emails don’t show, was what happened behind-the-scenes at the Lottery to cause them to change minds and pull the approval for elections betting during the two hours it was live.

As I pointed out last week, wagering on elections is illegal in West Virginia. It’s a misdemeanor and a $50 fine. One person missing from the various email chains I looked at was the Lottery’s general counsel. In fact, the Lottery deputy handling he elections betting requests April 7 told all parties that elections betting is something they had been considering for a while. It does not appear like anyone consulted an attorney to determine the legalities.

I still have some questions about all of this.

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As I’ve said in this space before, any small missteps as we continue through this coronavirus pandemic can undo a lot of the real good that’s been done.

Take, for example, some of Gov. Jim Justice’s actions last Thursday. During his daily coronavirus briefing, Justice talked vaguely about issues with testing at nursing homes in the state. I wish I could tell you what those issues were, but he never said. It seemed apparent that his remarks were aimed at a specific nursing home, but he also wouldn’t say which one.

Naturally, nursing homes are like catnip for the coronavirus. Nursing homes are places with people older than 60 and with chronic health issues, so the nursing homes where the coronavirus gets into become almost instant hotspots. Sundale in Morgantown was one, and now a nursing home in Wayne County has sent that county to the top 10 of counties with significant cases.

Justice seemed to be implying that data on testing and positive cases in nursing homes was coming in too slowly and that the DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard were not testing everyone in the nursing homes.

In all of these cases, the DHHR and West Virginia National Guard have rushed to these nursing homes to test all patients and staff. When you’re testing as many as 100 people at once, it takes more time for results to come back, trace sources and complete the epidemiology investigations before reporting the official numbers. But Justice seemed upset that state health officials were missing people.

Later in the press conference – out of nowhere and without any kind of setup – Justice ordered Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the National Guard, to track nursing home cases separately similar to how Ohio tracks nursing home outbreaks.

“We need to do that,” Justice said. “It makes us more transparent and everything, and it will help us. It will just make us better.”

I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, but maybe airing these issues in public is not the best way to engender confidence or inspire morale. This came after several reporters asked for more details on this nursing home issues. It was very reactionary and not very decisive.

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On a personal note, I know all of this is tough for everyone and in different ways. With that in mind, please think of the people who help bring you the news. I’m not talking about myself or my fellow reporters keeping you updated at the local level, but the people who print, put together and deliver your paper, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people.

If you’re able, encourage your friends and family to subscribe today. I can’t speak about the national media, but your local paper is working hard to bring you news and transparency about this virus and your government’s response. Help us keep doing that.

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