West Virginia sports betting bill contains few sure things

If West Virginia legislators behind the sports betting bill were trying to ensure we can compete against surrounding states, they went way, way overboard.

Should sports betting become a reality here, that could cost West Virginians millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Under the measure that seems certain to land on Gov. Jim Justice’s desk, the state would receive a measly 10 percent of sports wagering revenue raked in at the five casinos — at Chester, Wheeling Island, Cross Lanes, Charles Town and the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.

Pennsylvania’s law, already on the books, calls for the state to collect 34 percent of gross revenue from sports gambling.

Kentucky legislators have written a bill giving the Bluegrass State a 20 percent share.

Maryland’s General Assembly has bills in both houses that are limited to calling for voter referendums on sports betting. A more specific bill provides for 20 percent of proceeds to go to the state.

Some gambling analysts have said Ohio is likely to legalize sports betting but, as of last Friday, no bill to that effect had been introduced in the General Assembly. In all likelihood, voters would have to approve an amendment to the state constitution to permit the practice. The state has become one of 18 to legalize fantasy sports wagering, a very different animal. No tax is levied on that, though operators must pay licensing fees of up to $10,000.

Virginia also has been pointed to as a state likely to legalize sports betting — but, again as of last Friday, no bill had been introduced there. They are looking at fantasy sports gambling.

Predictions are that 18 or so states will enact sports betting bills within the next few years.

Connecticut is cited frequently as having a sports betting law — but the measure, enacted last summer, is very sketchy. It has no stipulations on revenue to the state, but, if sports wagering proceeds there, rest assured there will be some added. An idea of the rate may be gained from the state’s take from other legalized gambling — 24 percent.

Many states are looking at sports betting because of a Supreme Court case involving New Jersey’s law. The NCAA, which handles collegiate athletics, joined with four professional leagues (basketball, baseball, hockey and football) to point out New Jersey’s law is in violation of a federal ban on sports betting in most states.

High court justices are expected to rule this spring or early summer on whether New Jersey can proceed.

Taxpayers there may well have mixed feelings about whether they want the court to say yes to their state: If sports betting is permitted in New Jersey, the state would collect a miniscule 8 percent of the proceeds.

The undisputed king of sports betting is Nevada, where it has been legal since 1949 (and, because of that timing, the state sneaked in under the federal ban).

At one time, Nevada took 10 percent of sports betting proceeds. It’s just 0.25 percent now — but gambling is so widespread that direct and indirect revenue from it covers about half the state’s budget.

Why, you ask, are collegiate and professional sports leagues so concerned? They have good reason, worrying, among other things, that betting will encourage corruption among athletes. Just missed catching that touchdown pass? That could be worth a hefty under-the-table payoff.

Some of the professional leagues want a part in administering sports gambling. Among other things, they want bans on athletes betting on their own sports. They also want cooperation in investigating scandals. They say West Virginia legislators have not been cooperative.

Indiana has. There, a sports betting bill allows 9.25 percent of proceeds to go to the state. One percent would go to the governing bodies of sporting activities on which bets are placed, as an “integrity fee.”

How will all this shake out in the Mountain State? Don’t make any bets on it.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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