CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At the same Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was criticizing the sports betting bill moving through the West Virginia Legislature in a conference call with state reporters Friday afternoon, the House of Delegates was approving the bill.
The bill (SB 415) passed the House on a 77-22 vote and Senate it back to the Senate to okay a few changes it made to the bill. The legalization of sports betting is contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing the practice in an appeal case it’s expected to rule on later this year.
House Finance Commissioner Chairman Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) said there’s a chance for the state to capitalize on a new revenue opportunity.
“The first $15 million of net profits shall go to the state Lottery Fund. Anything above that shall go to the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s Stability Fund, PEIA,” Nelson said.
Commissioner Manfred heavily criticized the West Virginia bill in Friday’s conference call.
“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 who are seeking to make money off of sports betting,” Manfred said.
He said the bill is “fundamentally flawed” and contains “no protections for the integrity of the sport.” Manfred said the bill “doesn’t protect young people or people with gambling problems.”
Lobbyists for MLB, the NBA and the NFL fail short in their attempts to have a one percent integrity fee that Manfred said they needed to deal with expanding gambling opportunities.
Manfred said MLB would urge Gov. Jim Justice to veto the bill.
“We are not opposed to the idea of West Virginia passing a sports betting bill–we would just like them to pass one that creates a framework that protects the integrity, recognizes the variety of interests at play here and quite frankly puts the state in a position to maximum the revenue returned from it,” Manfred said.
Estimates vary on how much revenue it would generate. A legislative estimate predicts additional revenue to the state of $5.5 million the first year. But a study commissioned by the Lottery predicted revenue two to three times higher, at $9 million to $17 million.
The West Virginia Lottery has been pushing the bill through the legislature in hopes of getting ahead of other states if sports betting is legalized.
“This is the opportunity for us to be the leader on this–to be the first one in–instead of following suit as we do all too often,” Delegate Riley Moore (R-Jefferson) said.
But Delegate Roland Jennings (R-Preston) called on fellow delegates to reject the bill.”Being first in something isn’t always the best thing. Being first to jump off a cliff doesn’t prove anything,” Jennings said.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) said it’s time for West Virginia to take advantage of what is already happening in big numbers.
“Think about the opportunity. Think about what’s going on right now. We have a huge black market,” Fluharty said.
Delegate Tom Fast (d-Fayette) said the only opportunity was to make West Virginia more like Las Vegas.
“Do you want to take our children, our grandchildren, and put our arms around them and say, ‘I want you to know that I was instrumental in bringing more of Sin City to the state of West Virginia,'” Fast said.