by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON – A bill sailing through the state legislature raises more questions than answers, according to representatives of major league sports.
Senate Bill 415, already approved by the state senate and pending approval in the house of delegates by week’s end, has raised concerns from various professional leagues such as the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
At the heart of those concerns are policing betting on games and assuring the integrity of the professional sports. For example, the bill does not prohibit a participant in a professional game from betting on the outcome. Morgan Sword of MLB told The Intelligencer of Wheeling that allowing players to bet on their own games is a major concern.
Sword said MLB and the other pro leagues already prohibit their players from betting but he said the pending legislation does not require West Virginia casinos to share information with the leagues.
Governor Jim Justice owns one of the locations where betting would be permitted: The Greenbrier resort. Others are Wheeling Island Hotel Casino, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort.
The legislation will only take effect if congress authorizes sports betting on a national level or if the U.S. supreme court issues an opinion saying states can start sports betting.
Amendments were planned, some delegates said, to address the league concerns. Another aspect of their criticism is that the state lottery commission is essentially given all policing power under this proposed law. The leagues believe that they should have a role in policing their own teams and note that the state lottery commission would have no investigatory power outside the Mountain State. Thus, if information for any prosecution was needed from outside West Virginia, the lottery commission could not force anyone to reveal it.
Sword has suggested that a one percent integrity fee be attached to the bill so that leagues would receive that portion of proceeds to assure that there is no wrongdoing.
Under the bill, if sports betting becomes legal, casinos would have to apply for a sports betting license. That would cost $100,000 initially, which many critics say is far below similar fees Nevada, where sports betting is allowed, After five years, the casinos would owe another $100,000 license renewal fee.
Others have questioned why casinos are to receive up to 90 percent of the proceeds from the gambling. “It’s a windfall for them,” said one legislator. With the state to receive just ten percent under the proposed law, opponents note that a Pennsylvania law, already passed, gives the state 34 percent of proceeds. Kentucky lawmakers are proposing 20 percent to the commonwealth. Predictions are that up to 18 states will legalize sports betting within the next few years.