Getting Sports Betting Right

West Virginia ought to have a sports betting statute on the books this spring — but it needs to be a home run, not a foul ball.

Within a few months, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to clear the way for states to set up sports betting operations. A few states already have plans in place.

Estimates of how much money West Virginia state government could rake off vary enormously. About $9 million a year, the state Lottery Commission estimates. Our guess is the “take” could be higher.

Given the relatively small investment the state would have to make, even a few million dollars in new revenue would be welcome.

Sports betting is an issue legislators have been urged to deal with in the past. House of Delegates member Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, has been coaching lawmakers on it.

But a bill introduced last week in the state Senate appears to be the means by which sports betting could be legalized. The measure, SB 415, has as its primary sponsor Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, who is Senate majority leader. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House.

Though speed is critical in enacting a bill, legislators should ensure due diligence is part of the process.

For example, precisely what types of betting would be permitted and how would information validating results be obtained? That seems easy enough when betting on the outcome of a game.

But SB 415 also permits wagering on “the individual performance statistics of athletes in a sporting event …” Exactly what does that mean?

Specific rules for sports betting would be left up to the Lottery Commission. Clearly, sports events sanctioning bodies — the NCAA for collegiate athletics and various organizations such as NASCAR for professional events — ought to be consulted. Writing that provision into the bill may not be a bad idea.

Other aspects of the bill should receive careful consideration, too. For example, it appears on-site sports betting would be permitted only at the state’s five gambling casinos, including the two in our area. Is that wise, or should the market be opened up?

And, as for betting through smartphone “apps,” how would that process be handled?

Finally, SB 415 appears to give the state only a 10 percent cut of receipts from sports gambling. That may not be enough.

By all means, West Virginia lawmakers should not allow our state to be left back in the pack when the way is cleared for sports gambling. At the same time, however, the law needs to be a clear touchdown for the Mountain State.

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