As the clock continues to tick toward the expected scuttling of the federal law that prevents states like West Virginia from allowing betting on sports, states like West Virginia are preparing to allow betting on sports. Although the hay technically is in the barn for a West Virginia sports betting program that doesn’t give the sports league’s a money-for-nothing “integrity fee,” certain forces within the state’s government have been trying in recent days to wedge payment to the sports leagues into the process.
At the forefront of the effort is Governor Jim Justice, a billionaire coal baron who rose to statewide prominence by purchasing The Greenbrier, luring the Saints, and now the Texans, to hold training camp at the resort. Justice also managed to attracted a PGA Tour event to West Virginia.
He stayed out of the original passing of the bill because of the obvious conflict of interest arising from these relationships. But he’s now trying to strike a backroom deal (literally) that would result in the sports leagues getting something to which they have no legal entitlement.
Some West Virginia legislators, from both sides of the aisle, are pushing back. Delegate Shawn Fluharty, a Democrat, addressed the situation during a Friday appearance on the West Virginia Metro News radio network.
“Essentially what we’re trying to do is extract money from West Virginia and send it to New York City and billionaire friends of the governor,” Fluharty said.
Fluharty has suggested that a recent closed-door meeting in which the Governor brokered a deal that would result in the state’s casinos, but not the state, paying the “integrity fee” violated the state’s open-meetings law, which requires public business to be done (wait for it) publicly.
The argument in favor of the approach seems to be that there’s nothing wrong with the government brokering a deal between two private entities — the casinos that would be the conduit for betting (with the state getting its cut of the action) and the sports leagues. As noted here recently, however, every penny that the casinos would be giving to the sports leagues is a penny that could be enhancing the state’s share.
Regardless, the state shouldn’t be in the middle of any effort by the sports leagues to get the casinos to cough up free money.
“This is two private entities,” Delegate Gary Howell, a Republican, to wvmetronews.com. “The major league sports in general are all private entities. The casinos are private entities. They’re free to enter into any private contract that they see as mutually beneficial. The two of them can work together on it, and government has no role in it. Freedom to enter into a contract is totally outside the government’s realm between two private entities.”
Howell is right, but the government nevertheless feels compelled to swoop in after the passage of a bill that contains no integrity fee and to attempt to get the casinos to give Goodfellas-style tribute to the sports leagues. And Justice, blatant conflict of interest of interest notwithstanding, is leading the way.
“A PGA representative was at that meeting,” Fluharty said. “They hold an event at The Greenbrier. Are we setting up a quid pro quo situation here? I don’t believe that’s in the best interest of the state, and it’s really troublesome when our governor has yet to separate himself from his public and private life.”
Fluharty is right, and here’s hoping that the closed door gets kicked open to expose each and every spoken and unspoken side deal or incentive or promise or threat that is compelling Justice and his top advisors in this area (one of whom is working for the state at a mere $8.75 per hour, which suggests that the rest of the payoff could come elsewhere) to push this issue. The sports leagues obviously hope to set the template in West Virginia that then gets foisted onto every other state that adopts sports betting. Or maybe the sports leagues are simply preying upon the states where they think they can pull a fast one.
Either way, no state should give the sports leagues a cut of the legalized betting revenue. And the best defense continues to be that Nevada has had legalized gambling for decades, and that it’s never given the sports leagues one thin dime — even with an NHL team now in Las Vegas and an NFL team coming soon.