Big Money

Sports gambling may be good bet

No one knows how much money Americans wager on sporting events, simply because much of the betting is done illegally. Estimates are mind-boggling, however.

One is that annual betting on the Super Bowl alone tops $8 billion. Another is that $30 billion to $40 billion a year is wagered on professional baseball games.

We have some solid figures, however, from the handful of states where sports betting is legal. In Nevada, for example, casinos handled $3.2 billion in sports bets during one recent year.

Why shouldn’t West Virginians get a cut?

There are two reasons: First, allowing casinos or anyone else to handle sports bets is not legal in our state. Second, it is not legal anywhere in the United States, except Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Only the first two actually have sports betting.

But New Jersey officials have filed a lawsuit challenging the national ban. In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case. If New Jersey wins, it and some other states will be off to the races (pun intended).

West Virginia may or may not be among them.

Earlier this year, during the Legislature’s regular annual session, a bill that would have permitted sports betting in casinos was introduced. Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was a lead sponsor. His argument is that the state needs revenue sports betting could generate.

That bill went nowhere.

But a few days ago, it was revealed the state Lottery Commission has awarded a $160,000 contract to a California firm to study the impact sports betting could have in West Virginia. Also to be analyzed is what allowing internet gambling could do for the state.

Good for Lottery Commission officials for getting their ducks in a row, on sports betting specifically and internet wagering generally.

There are ethical considerations, of course. But they existed years ago, when other forms of gambling were legalized in the Mountain State. Rightly or wrongly, West Virginians reached a consensus that local and state governments needed the money, and legalized gambling should proceed.

The same view would be taken of expanded legalized gambling, we feel certain.

Lawmakers should follow the Lottery Commission’s lead and have bills on sports and internet gambling ready when the Legislature convenes in early January. Care will have to be taken in writing the measures. For example, the state needs to insist on a reasonable share of proceeds of any type of gambling.

Along with consideration of expanded gambling, lawmakers and taxpayers need to understand that if it happens in West Virginia, the windfall will be only temporary. It will last only until other states hop on the bandwagon — as they will.

Still, Fluharty is right. In terms of new revenue for the state, expanded gambling may be a good bet.