Bad Bet

Lawmakers should require a bigger share

Estimates of new revenue West Virginia state government would reap from legalization of sports betting have varied wildly. None, to our knowledge, has topped $15 million a year during the first year after allowing the new form of wagering.

That figure is significant because of action taken by the state Senate on Monday. In a move calculated to placate public school teachers, senators agreed to amend their sports betting bill.

Among the biggest beefs many teachers have with state government is the cost of health insurance through the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Officials of the state’s two teachers’ unions have called for a two-day strike because of that and demands for higher pay.

Lawmakers and Gov. Jim Justice already have agreed to take $29 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to prevent PEIA premium increases for the next 17 months.

State senators’ action Monday was aimed at providing a whole new revenue stream for the PEIA. They agreed to amend the sports gambling bill to provide that any revenue exceeding $15 million a year is to go to the PEIA.

It may take some time before any such revenue transfers occur. At one point, senators were being told sports betting would net the state just $5.5 million a year.

More recently, a consultant predicted it would bring in $13.4 million the first year, rising to $28.7 million in five years.

All that is based on the sports betting bill’s current requirement that casinos offering that form of revenue must pay 10 percent of proceeds to the state.

Ten percent is an absurdly low “take” for the state. It is the lower by far than proposals in any adjacent state that has a sports betting bill in play. Kentucky and Maryland want 20 percent. Neither Ohio nor Virginia legislatures have active sports betting bills.

Pennsylvania, with a sports betting law already on the books, sets the state share at 34 percent.

Clearly, state senators want teachers upset with health insurance premiums to be pleased about Monday’s action. But they — and every West Virginian — would be a lot happier if the Legislature required more than a 10 percent share from sports betting. The current bill on the subject amounts to a very bad bet for our state.