Major League Baseball Urges Veto of Sports Betting Bill

Lobbyists in Charleston trying to persuade Justice to strike down measure

WHEELING — Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred said the league “is realistic” and doesn’t oppose sports betting in West Virginia — just the sports betting legislation the House of Delegates approved on Friday.

The House approved Senate Bill 415 with a vote of 77 to 22 and all Northern Panhandle delegates voting “yes.” Pending concurrence by the Senate on some minor amendments, the bill would move on to Gov. Jim Justice for signature into law.

Manfred said MLB presently has lobbyists in Charleston who will try to convince Justice to veto the measure.

As written, the legislation would only allow sports betting at the state’s four racetracks: Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack; Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort; the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson and the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston — as well as The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, owned by Justice.

“We understand there are a lot of parties interested in the sports gaming bill in West Virginia, most importantly the citizens of West Virginia,” Manfred said.

“But professional sport organizations also have an interest. It is our product people are seeking to bet on, and the proliferation of sports betting can present a threat to the integrity of our sports.”

MLB and other sports groups would have to take additional steps to monitor sports betting as it pertains to their contests, according to Manfred.

He described West Virginia’s sports betting bill “as fundamentally flawed.” There are no protections to keep players from betting on their own games in the state, he said. In addition, there are no provisions to help anyone who becomes addicted to gambling.

“The bill is bad for West Virginia,” Manfred said. “The sports betting structure is so bad, betters will seek other states with better framework.”

SB 415, as presently written, provides the state with 10 percent of the net profits from sports betting. This compares to 6.5 percent in Nevada, and as much as 12 percent in other states, according to House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.

The Eilers and Krejcik gaming research firm predicts sports betting in West Virginia would result in $13.4 million in revenue the first year, $21.7 million the second, $29.7 million in year three, $29 million the fourth year, and $28.7 million in five years.

MLB and the National Basketball association had worked to see a 1 percent “integrity tax” placed on sports bets in West Virginia to help pay for their expanded cost of monitoring contests because of sports betting.

“That was our initial suggestion — 1 percent, but we have shown a willingness to take less,” Manfred said. “The non-monetary provisions are what’s important.”

Manfred said the MLB has been in communication with Justice, and he thinks Justice “has an understanding about problems with the bill.”