CHARLESTON – A U.S. Supreme Court ruling makes sports gambling legal across the country, and West Virginia already is ahead of the game.
The court ruled May 14 on a New Jersey challenge to a 1992 outlawing sports betting in states other than those grandfathered in, most notably Nevada. Justice Samuel Alito called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act an affront to state sovereignty.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” he wrote in the 6-3 majority opinion. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.
“Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
During this winter’s legislative session, state lawmakers voted to legalize sports betting in West Virginia at the state’s five casinos and through smartphone apps operated by the casinos. Gov. Jim Justice, who owns The Greenbrier resort which has a casino, allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
“I think it’s great because, to be perfectly honest, we all know there’s a lot of illegal sports betting going on all over the country,” Justice said. “For us now to be able to capture dollars that are significant and meaningful to out state, as well as other states, that’s what I think we ought to do. So I think it’s good news … great news.”
Across the United States, the underground sports betting economy is estimated to be worth at least $150 billion a year.
West Virginia is one of six states to have passed laws to allow sports betting. It is the only state to pass sports betting legislation this year, in anticipation of a favorable Supreme Court decision.
State officials say betting on certain professional or collegiate sports events should begin in the coming months as West Virginia Lottery activities. Supporters say the increased state revenue will help pay for education, tourism and senior services.
All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In West Virginia, the leagues have advocated for an "integrity fee," which is essentially a tax on all bets which would be paid to the leagues.
Justice said a special legislative session is possible to implement the integrity fee.