Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday that Major League Baseball would urge the governor of West Virginia to veto an advancing bill that aims to legalize sports betting in the state, if provisions recognizing sports leagues' interests were not put in place.
West Virginia is among a growing number of states making a push to offer legal sports betting. On Friday, while Manfred was conducting a conference call with local media, the West Virginia House passed a sports betting bill by a 77-22 vote. The state Senate approved the bill last week. After a brief stop back in the Senate for tweaks of the bill that will allow it to match the House version (considered a formality), the bill will be sent to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.
Manfred said there had been discussions with Justice, adding that the governor "has a very good understanding of the serious problems that are associated with the bill."
"We hope the House and the Senate reconsider the bill, delay the vote, take an opportunity to put together a better bill and, if that fails, we will continue to urge the governor to veto the bill," Manfred told reporters.
Manfred said the current bill is flawed and does not take into account the interests of all parties, "only the gaming industry." In addition, he expressed concerns that the bill does not protect young people from getting involved in sports betting and lacks protections for problem gambling. The bill sets the minimum age to place a bet at 21.
Major League Baseball and the NBA have been lobbying in many of the states pursuing legal sports betting. The leagues have been asking for data rights, authority over which types of bets are offered and an "integrity fee" paid by bookmakers to the leagues and based on the amount bet on their respective sports.
"I want to be clear about this -- we are not opposed to the idea of West Virginia passing a sports betting bill," Manfred said. "We'd just like them to pass one that creates a framework that protects the integrity, recognizes the variety of interests at play here and quite frankly puts the state in a position to maximize the revenue return from it."
In the meantime, the Supreme Court is reviewing the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and is preparing to release a ruling as early as Monday.