From The Intelligencer of Wheeling:
West Virginia did not have to be put in the position of playing catch-up to other states on an excellent money-making opportunity, legalized sports and online gambling. But as of this week, that is where we are.
It has been suggested for years that the Mountain State, which already permits most other forms of wagering, should get into sports and online betting. One champion of the idea, state House of Delegates member Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, tried to talk fellow lawmakers into it last year. He was unsuccessful, despite the fact expanded gambling would bring millions of dollars into state coffers.
Last week, Pennsylvania officials agreed to allow online gambling at truck stops and airports. They expect that action, combined with expansion of existing gambling machine operations, will result in $200 million in new revenue for the state.
Before officials in Harrisburg acted, just three states allowed online gambling. They were Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.
There are questions about the permissibility of online and sports gambling under federal law. But the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide a sports gambling case early next year. If the justices allow states to engage in it — as is a distinct possibility — the floodgates will open.
Mountain State officials are not entirely idle on the issue. Just last month, state Lottery Commission members met with representatives of gambling casinos to discuss the possibilities of sports betting. They are enormous, with billions of dollars a year bet on athletic contests.
Sports attracts as much as $60 billion a year in bets through illegal channels, according to one study. Obviously, much of that would transfer to legal betting operations.
Fluharty is right that the longer West Virginia waits to get into online and sports betting, the less lucrative it will be for our state.
Lottery commission officials should spend the next two months preparing a bill to allow West Virginia to get in on the ground floor on sports and online gambling. It should be presented to legislators the day they open their regular annual session in January. That would allow lawmakers to amend sections of the bill that may favor the gambling industry at the expense of West Virginians.
Once the measure is ready — within the 60-day session — it should be approved and sent to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.
Let’s not let the boat leave without us on this one.