NBA, MLB Say West Virginia’s Sports Betting Bill Is Flawed

WHEELING — Both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are knocking West Virginia’s attempt to legalize sports betting, asserting the bill lacks proper safeguards, doesn’t protect consumers, and wouldn’t prohibit players from betting on their own sports.

The sports organizations are offering their ideas on how to improve the sports betting bill, while they also seek a 1 percent “integrity tax” to help them investigate and monitor sports games and gaming boards as they happen on the field and on the courts.

Both the NBA and MLB released separate statements Monday denouncing West Virginia’s legislation, but they’ve jointly retained counsel and communications representatives to press their message in the state.

“We appreciate the Legislature’s work on the subject of legalized sports betting; however, we do not believe the bill currently under consideration will achieve the critical goals of protecting consumers and the integrity of our league. We hope that the Legislature will examine these issues more closely and amend the bill to include the necessary safeguards,” the NBA release states.

“Any sports betting legislation must include clear, robust and enforceable protections to mitigate any possible risks to our game,” Major League Baseball stated. “The law quickly advancing in West Virginia, unfortunately, falls short of meeting those critical standards. We are hopeful the Legislature will complete a significant overhaul of the law and bolster the protections. We would be happy to work with legislators and the Lottery Commission to improve the current language.”

As many as 20 other states are considering sports betting bills, according to a joint statement provided by a spokesman for the NBA and MLB.

When asked why the MLB and NBA were targeting West Virginia’s efforts, the response was the West Virginia bill “was moving faster” than others throughout the nation. The leagues said the West Virginia law also has the most questionable “integrity and standards of any law moving,” and that’s why they felt compelled to speak up on Monday.

Executives for MLB and the NBA did not return requests for comment on Monday.

Jointly representing the sport leagues at the State Capitol in Charleston on Monday was attorney Scott Ward with the firm of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP. He testified before the Senate Finance Committee that four provisions need to be added to West Virginia’s sports betting bill.

First, West Virginia casinos licensed to handle table gaming should be required to share data and cooperate with the sports leagues in the event of an internal investigation, Ward told senators. League officials can effectively monitor sports games and sports betting as they simultaneously occur, and spot any abnormalities that could indicate illegal activity.

“We can see it better when someone is only placing bets when a certain referee is involved,” he said.

The sports leagues also need to be able to opt-out of specific forms of betting when they believe they can’t be monitored sufficiently, Ward said. The West Virginia legislation allows for in-game betting, or betting on such matters as who will commit the first foul in a basketball game or whether the first pitch in the fifth inning of a baseball game is a ball or strike, and the sports leagues believe these types of bets are more susceptible to corruption than others.

He pointed out the West Virginia legislation has no provision to prohibit players from betting on their own games. The NBA and MLB both have such provisions in their bylaws.

Ward said the sports leagues also should be compensated for the money they’ve spent developing the honor of their sports over the decades.

“Billions have been spent on protecting the integrity of our sports,” he said. “We wouldn’t have a sports betting market today if that money hadn’t been spent.”

He defended the need for the 1 percent “integrity tax” on bets, saying the leagues have more to lose than states or casinos if corruption creeps into sports betting.

“We wonder about that cost,” Ward said. “The fee is for compensation for being at the core of the market, and costs we will have as well.”

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, asked Ward why the organizations needed money from every sports bet in West Virginia.

“Why should we pay you to protect your own interests?” he asked.

Lastly, Ward said West Virginia’s sports betting bill needs more provisions to help the consumer — such as advertising restrictions, programs for problem gamblers, and requiring the use of real-time date to ensure the accuracy and consistency of betting outcomes for fans.

The Senate Finance Committee is set to consider amendments to the bill when they meet at 3 p.m. today at the State Capitol.