18 states must find way not to ruin legal sports betting

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We’ve got a new modern version of the Wild West across the country, as at least 18 states anticipated Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that would allow legal sports betting. But along the way there’s been a lot of misinformed elected officials running as fast as they can into their state Legislature, passing bills so they’re ready to simply flip the switch and start taking bets.

One of those is West Virginia, who last week had a closed-door meeting with representatives of state casinos/racetracks, professional sports leagues as well as officials from WVU and Marshall universities. They all met at the state Lottery headquarters in a meeting put together by businessman Bray Cary for West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. The governor also happens to be a billionaire who owns the Greenbrier Resort and Casino, where the PGA holds an event.

Oh yeah, the PGA was also at this meeting.

The only thing missing from the closed-door meeting was someone who actually understands how bookmaking works, what kind of revenues can be expected and the costs associated with it.

If their position that lottery and racetrack operators present were sufficient bookmaking representation, they are terribly mistaken. Both those operations take a huge fee off the top of overall handle or perhaps that’s what they have in store.

I’ve been following the coverage from West Virginia Metro News writer Brad McElhinny and the story gets more interesting daily. There are many in the public there who are skeptical of this backroom deal and the “integrity fee” the leagues are asking for.

The PGA, really? What are they doing there? WVU and Marshall want some too? Because Gov. Justice is a billionaire, some have suggested cronyism and shadowy negotiating.

“I insisted from day one that no part of an integrity fee for sports betting would be paid by the state,” Gov. Justice stated in Thursday’s press release. “I demanded that the entire fee be paid by the casinos.”

“This was a difficult negotiation between many different parties, but the outcome will be very good for the State of West Virginia as well as the sports leagues,” Gov. Justice added.

“Additional dollars received by the state from sports betting will be utilized for the benefit of many of our residents. However, all of this is a moot issue until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the legality of sports gaming across the country.”

Yes, we all get it and I don’t think anyone actually thought the West Virginia people would pay the integrity fee, or at least not directly. They’ll end up paying for it in ways like laying -160 on a straight bet, the type of wager Las Vegas books offers at -110.

The integrity fee is hilarious. It’s legal extortion proposed by the leagues and in West Virginia’s case, the NBA and MLB had Larry Luccio as their registered lobbyist. Luccio also happens to be a lobbyist for the Greenbrier and was the leader of Gov. Justice’s transition team. So essentially he was negotiating with himself for an “integrity fee” deal.

And why should the leagues get anything, anyway? They do nothing. The sportsbooks pay an extortion fee already for video of all the games. The league’s game is enhanced by betting. 

The spread and total always keep fans watching a blowout. And Nevada has always been the league’s watchdog for suspicious activity.

We’ll see how all this flows out in all the states. West Virginia is just one of many thinking they can do things without help. 

Other states that have real help due to having an MGM, Boyd Gaming, Station, Caesars or Stratosphere casino operating in-state will be greatly enhanced by initiating state sports gaming laws and minimum internal control standards.

Las Vegas books will still thrive – there’s still nothing like a Vegas experience – and I’m so happy for many of my friends who now have an outlet to move up the ladder and take their skills to another state. In the end, though, I do believe the fees states like West Virginia eventually have to pay for when they realize straight bets take skill to book – and sometimes lose money – will not be attractive to the regular bettor, which will still make illegal bookmakers and off-shore books very relevant.

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