The West Virginia Lottery wants to get into the sports betting business.
The Lottery is having a bill drafted to be introduced in the Legislature this session that would authorize sports betting at the state’s four race tracks and casinos and the Greenbrier Resort.
In a draft version, the bill in its “legislative findings” section reads, “The Legislature finds that in order to protect the residents of the state who wager on sports or other events and to capture revenues and create jobs generated from sports wagering, it is in the best interest of this state to authorize its citizens to regulate this activity by authorizing and establishing a secure, responsible, fair, and legal system of sports wagering immediately when the federal ban is lifted.”
The last six words are key. Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992. It prevented sports betting in nearly every state. States that allowed casino gambling were given one year to pass sports betting. Only Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada did.
However, New Jersey passed laws in 2012 and 2014 allowing sports betting. Those laws were challenged and now the case is pending before the United State Supreme Court. West Virginia is one of the states that has filed a brief in support of striking down the ban.
Court observers believe the Justices may side with New Jersey, citing the 10th Amendment to the Constitution which says powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people. That’s an argument for federalism and allowing the states to exercise their autonomy.
The court’s decision is expected within a few months and West Virginia Lottery Attorney Danielle Boyd says the Lottery wants to get a jump.
“We are excited to see such early support by legislators on this critical piece of legislation for West Virginia,” Boyd said. “Pending a positive outcome from the United States Supreme Court, this bill gives us the opportunity to be one of the first to market in the region which was a major factor with the initial success of racetrack video lottery and table games.”
Sports betting is big business. Chris Grove, managing director of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, told CBS News that Americans are already betting an estimated $60 billion annually using offshore sites and bookies, generating about $3 billion in revenue from the customers.
“We estimate that a properly regulated market could be worth nearly five times that amount, resulting in a financial windfall for sports betting operators, sports leagues and media and state governments alike,” Grove said.
West Virginia’s treasury benefited significantly by getting in the gambling business before most other states. Those states have caught up and now the Lottery wants to get a jump on the sports book.
We’ll see in the coming weeks if the State Legislature agrees.