No Big Payoff

Will sports betting be as lucrative as state hopes?

Sports betting may be available to West Virginians in time for the professional football season. That will prove to be a windfall for gambling casinos, but it will not do much for the economy in general or state government’s budget.

State Lottery Commission officials have approved “emergency” rules for wagering on sports, and the governor’s office reportedly has cleared them.

That could allow the state’s five casinos, including two in the Northern Panhandle, to open sports betting “books” by early September.

Serious flaws exist in sports betting law and regulations. For one thing, the idea of cooperating with professional sports leagues, in exchange for a modest integrity fee, has been rejected. The leagues are uniquely qualified to both verify results of games and events occurring within them. They also could be invaluable in ensuring the integrity of the system by spotting misbehavior by those involved in sports.

Another concern is the minuscule cut of the profits — 10 percent — set to go to the state. It has been estimated that will bring in only $5 million during the first year.

By the fifth year, revenue of $28.7 million is being predicted.

Don’t bet on it.

For now, West Virginia is a leader in allowing sports betting. If the history of legalized gambling is any indication, that will not last long. Other states will hop on the bandwagon, siphoning away revenue from ours.

The bottom line for Gov. Jim Justice and legislators, then, is to enjoy the pittance state government will receive from sports betting, in the knowledge even that will not last.