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Neighbors want a piece of WV sports betting action

December 30, 2018

State-sponsored gambling endeavors tend to resemble arms races. One side gets an advantage with a new weapon, but that advantage lasts only until a rival secures that same weapon.

It was that way with scratch-off lottery tickets. It was that way with number games such as Powerball. Then came limited video lottery, formerly known as video poker. Next were table games at race tracks. One state offers something its neighbors don’t, and it’s a big deal until the neighbors offer the same attraction.

The latest entry in the gambling arms race is sports betting.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says negotiations between his office and that state’s legislature should produce a bill to be voted on in the 2019 session, according to the Washington Post.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that prevented all states except Nevada from allowing betting on sports contests. Anticipating that ruling, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing sports betting once it became legal nationally. Along with Nevada and West Virginia, sports betting is now legal in New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New Mexico and the District of Columbia, according to the Post. New York and Arkansas are considering legislation allowing sports betting, according to the Post.

Has sports betting paid off for West Virginia? Not all that much, according to a recent article in The Charleston Gazette-Mail. In November, gamblers placed $13.3 million wagers at the three casinos offering the service. They collected $11.96 million in winnings, leaving a profit of $1.33 million. West Virginia’s 10 percent tax on the profits brought $133,351 into the state treasury.

That’s not much, but it was up from the $63,020 the state made in October, the newspaper reported.

Hollywood Casino in Charles Town had almost all the sports betting activity in the state in November, and it would be hit hardest when similar gambling begins in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Sports betting at Mountaineer Casino near Chester and at the Greenbrier brought in smaller amounts. So did Mountaineer, but it didn’t offer the service until Thanksgiving week.

Pennsylvania’s rollout of sports betting could hurt Mountaineer and the Wheeling Island casino. The Greenbrier should be insulated from competition in neighboring states. Sports betting at Wheeling Island and at the Mardi Gras casino at Cross Lanes did not open until last week.

With West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the sports betting business, it won’t be long before Ohio and Kentucky want a piece of the action. That’s to be expected considering the college sports activity in Kentucky and the college and professional activity in Ohio.

Sports betting could end up like riverboat gambling. Indiana and other states jumped into that one early. It was proposed in West Virginia but never approved by the Legislature. Now much of that activity has moved from the river to on-shore casinos.

As neighboring states jump on the bandwagon, sports betting in West Virginia could be more of a dud than a firecracker. People have only so much money to spend on gambling. If they’re betting on football games, they’re probably not betting on dog races or spending that money on other entertainment pursuits. And gamblers may still prefer the illegal books.

The recent news out of Maryland and D.C. is not all that good for West Virginia, but it’s not all that bad, either. Yet.

While casinos and state officials figure out how to get sports gambling established here before other states take over the market, the rest of us will wait for the next big thing in legalized gambling.

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