By Jim Workman
West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred understands a lot of parties are interested in the sports gaming bill in West Virginia.
“But Major League Baseball and the other professional sports also have a strong interest, because it is, after all, our product that people are seeking to bet on,” Manfred said, addressing state media members Friday.
“Unfortunately in West Virginia, there’s only one interested group that has dominated the substance of this bill, and that’s the gaming industry – the people seeking to make money from sports betting,” Manfred said.
With Senate Bill 415, officials from the West Virginia Lottery and legislative supporters hope sports wagering revenue may one day help pay for education, tourism and senior services in the Mountain State. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to lift a federal ban on sports wagering soon, which would allow states to add sports wagering.
Betting on sports would take place in facilities that currently have gaming licenses, such as casinos and racetracks. Wagering from a mobile app may also be implemented.
The current bill before the House and Senate is “fundamentally flawed,” Manfred said.
“It contains literally no protections toward the integrity of the sport. There’s no recognition of that risk. It does not protect young people in West Virginia, by limiting their access to sports betting. It does not protect people with gambling problems,” Manfred said.
“All it does is maximize the opportunity for the gaming industry to make money.”
Manfred said as sports betting becomes more pervasive in the United States, it takes more effort to ensure the sport’s integrity, even though MLB has protective efforts already in place.
The bill will be bad for the citizens of West Virginia, Manfred added.
“The structure of the bill is so fundamentally flawed, bettors will seek other states with better regulatory frameworks,” Manfred predicted. “As a result, the expected financial windfall (for West Virginia) will be much lower.”
Manfred said he hopes the House and Senate reconsiders the bill, delays the vote and takes an opportunity to put together a better bill.
If it should pass both sides, “We will continue to urge the Governor to veto the bill,” Manfred stated, adding that in communications between MLB and the Governor’s Office, he believes Gov. Jim Justice “understands the serious problems with this bill.”
Manfred said MLB may support a better structured bill, because he realizes expansion of sports betting continues in the United States.
“We would support a bill constructed more efficiently,” he said. “It would have to take in consideration the citizens and the sports leagues, and not just the gaming industry.”
Resources exist from the sports leagues that would help lawmakers craft an acceptable bill, Manfred said.
“We have lobbyists available in West Virginia,” said Manfred. “They’re prepared to work with the legislators to make sure they pass a bill that is good for the citizens, good for the sports as well as good for the gaming industry.”
The fact that the state of West Virginia has no professional franchises within its borders offers no comfort in aiding the need for maximum integrity, Manfred said.
“Not in a world where communication and technology is where it is today,” he said.