West Virginia has a gambling deal, unless it doesn’t

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West Virginia often is mocked for being behind the times. When it comes to the looming proliferation of sports wagering, my home state resides on the cutting edge.

In fact, we’re so far ahead of the curve that the process has apparently gotten ahead of itself. Because the recent announcement by Governor Jim Justice of a deal that would include the state’s casinos (but absolutely, positively not the state) paying an integrity fee to the sports leagues apparently was premature.

Via the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the Governor’s proclamation of a done deal is being challenged by others involved in the crafting of a sports wagering program.

“I don’t know how in the world we got to the point where the governor says there is a deal. There is no deal in place,” West Virginia Gaming and Racing Association president John Cavacini said.

Separate questions have emerged regarding whether, if the deal has been struck, the meetings resulting in the consensus violated the state’s open meetings law, which means that a legal challenge could be coming.

The director of the West Virginia Lottery Commission, Alan Larrick, pushed back against his boss more gently, explaining that there’s “an agreement in principle,” but not final deal. Larrick also acknowledged that a so-called “integrity fee” is on the table.

“The fee being discussed was one-quarter percent,” he said Thursday.

The fee, frankly, should be zero-point-zero percent. The simple response to the blatant money grab under a title that sounds honorable should be this: Nevada has been the gambling capital of the nation for decades, and it has never paid the sports leagues a penny. The slightly more complicated response is this: What does West Virginia or any other state get in return by giving the sports leagues a piece of the pie, no matter how small it may be?

The sports leagues have no leverage on this, and yet they somehow are on the verge of persuading West Virginia to cave. There’s no legal right to an “integrity fee” or anything else for supplying the events on which people wager. And there’s nothing the sports leagues can do from a business perspective to force states to pay, short of shutting down their sports until the states cry uncle.

So the sports leagues (NFL included, although the NFL has quietly piggybacked on the NBA and MLB) can take their “integrity fee,” and they can shove it, sideways. They already have the resources, harvested in part from stadiums that have been built in whole or in part by taxpayer money,  to ensure that their games have integrity — and they have a clear incentive independent of legal wagering to ensure that their sports have integrity.

Three years ago, the NFL spent millions in a relentless persecution of the greatest quarterback in league history. All in the name of integrity.

So if the sports leagues currently have concerns about the integrity of their games, they need to use some of the billions they already make (and they’ll make even more billions via the increased interest in their sports that will come from widespread legalized gambling) to ensure that the integrity that already should exist definitely does. And the sports leagues should have the basic integrity to not try to call an effort to get money for nothing something other that what it really is.