Major League Baseball calls foul on West Virginia bill

PARKERSBURG — Major League Baseball will encourage the governor to veto a bill allowing sports wagering in West Virginia, the commissioner on Friday said.

Senate Bill 415, allowing betting on professional or collegiate sports or other athletic events, is fundamentally flawed, not the least of which is the lack of precautions against the players from betting on the games, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a telephone press conference with West Virginia reporters.

As Manfred was speaking to reporters, the bill passed Friday out of the House on a 77-22 vote with four Democrats and 18 Republicans, including Bill Anderson and John Kelly of Wood County and Ray Hollen of Wirt County, opposed. Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, who suffered a broken hip last week, did not vote.

The bill will go to the governor if the Senate concurs with the House changes that cleaned up language,

“We still continue to urge the governor to veto the bill,” Manfred said.

The legislation would go into effect if sports wagering is approved nationally or if the Supreme Court rules states can allow sports betting.

Major League Baseball is not opposed to a sports betting bill, but SB 415, besides the issues with players, doesn’t protect youth or people with gambling problems, among other issues, Manfred said.

“All it does is maximize the opportunity for the gaming industry to make money,” Manfred said.

Gambling on the games would be permitted at the four race tracks in West Virginia at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, and at The Greenbrier Resort in Lewisburg, which is owned by Gov. Jim Justice. The West Virginia Lottery will administer sports betting and the filing fee for a license is $250,000.

The Lottery Commission has estimated profits of $5 million in the first year, but a study done for the Lottery said a 10 percent tax on profits could raise $18 million-$30 million a year.

The state may not see that amount of money, Manfred said. Bettors may go elsewhere where there are better regulatory protections, according to Manfred.

“Unfortunately in West Virginia, there’s only one interested group that has dominated the substance of this bill, and that’s the gaming industry, the people seeking to make money from sports betting,” Manfred said.