MLB: West Virginia Sports Betting Bill Could Mar the Game’s Integrity

Photo Provided Sports betting boards, such as this one in Las Vegas, may eventually be in place at five West Virginia casinos.

WHEELING — West Virginia’s legislation that, if passed, would potentially put the state into the sports betting business is fraught with issues which may compromise the integrity of professional sports, a Major League Baseball executive said Wednesday.

The bill, Senate Bill 415, already has passed the West Virginia Senate and now is moving in the House of Delegates. Morgan Sword, MLB’s senior vice president for league economics and strategy, said the league is very concerned about the legislation, as it does not adequately protect the major sports leagues.

While he spoke only for Major League Baseball, Sword said executives with the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA and other sports organizations also are concerned about how the legislation could impact them. Most notably, the leagues are concerned that Senate Bill 415 does not prohibit players from betting on games in which they are participants.

“Expansion of sports betting increases risks to the integrity of our games,” Sword said. “We sell competition. That is our product.”

West Virginia’s legislation “doesn’t adequately protect the sports leagues. There are obvious risks that could come along with allowing people to bet on there own sports,” Sword added.

Sword said baseball and the other leagues have clear prohibitions against players betting on their own games. However, he said the West Virginia legislation does not require casinos to share information with the leagues about this. Sword described a scenario in which a player could enter a West Virginia casino to place a bet on a game in which the player is participating. He said the bill wouldn’t compel the casino to alert the league about this.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice owns The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, which is one of five locations throughout the state that could eventually offer sports betting. The other possible sports betting destinations included in the legislation are Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston.

The legislation, if passed, would only go into effect if Congress acts to authorize sports wagering on the national level, or if the U.S. Supreme Court renders an opinion permitting states to start sports betting games.

“There is no requirement that operators share data with us,” Sword said. “There is no requirement that they cooperate with us on investigations of wrongdoing.”

Sword said another concern is the West Virginia legislation could allow someone to bet when they have “insider information.” He described a situation in which a security guard at a stadium may see a player nursing an injury — and then place a bet at a West Virginia casino based on this knowledge.

Sword also said the leagues are concerned about in-game bets, which he said are “more susceptible to fraud.” An example of this would be if a casino establishes a bet about whether the first pitch of an inning will be a ball or a strike, or, if a basketball player is going to make or miss a free throw.

“In-game bets are the fastest growing area. That allows a casino to collect bets throughout the game,” Sword said. “Results of the bets have to be based on official data that everyone acknowledges and agrees upon,” and the leagues are the best source for this data, he added.

Sword would like West Virginia to apply a 1 percent integrity fee on the dollars that are bet at the casinos that would go to the leagues to help the state promote sports betting and also ensure no wrongdoing. This money, he emphasizes, will only come from the money bet on sports at the casinos.

“The casinos are going to profit from this legislation. We are going to have to spend money and time protecting our product,” Sword said of the MLB and other sports leagues. “Sports betting would not exist without the sport.”

If sports betting eventually becomes legal in West Virginia, the casinos would have to apply for a sports betting license at an initial cost of $100,000. The license would be valid for five years. After this, the casino would be subject to a $100,000 license renewal fee.

The only state with sports betting currently in operation is Nevada, according to Sword. Legally, one must be within the borders of the state to place a bet, he said.

“We’re hoping to have a partnership with West Virginia,” Sword added, while emphasizing this would allow casinos to use official team logos and photos to present a more authentic experience.

Kim Florence, general manager for Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.