Approve sports betting in W.Va.

For a change, West Virginia legislators should be proactive rather than reactive. Time is growing very short for lawmakers to do that on sports gambling.

U.S. Supreme Court justices have heard arguments in a sports gambling case that originated in New Jersey. In essence, officials there are seeking a ruling that they can get into the sports gambling business without federal interference.

Veteran court observers expect the justices to decide in favor of New Jersey. Their ruling could occur as early as February. It would come by June, at the latest.

West Virginia House of Delegates member Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio County) has been prodding fellow lawmakers for some time to allow sports betting in our state. He has had no success in gaining legislation on the issue, possibly because of the federal ban on it. If that prohibition is lifted by the high court, there will be a rush to implement state sports gambling programs. Some states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, already have taken some steps in that regard.

No wonder. A few states already are permitted to allow sports gambling, having been “grandfathered” in under the federal provision. In Nevada alone, more than $4.5 billion was bet on athletic contests in 2016. States can get a cut of the “action” in sports betting, and that could be a windfall in the billions of dollars to them.

In West Virginia, government’s potential annual take from sports gambling is estimated at a minimum of $60 million a year. It could be as much as $100 million a year.

Mountain State residents and officials already have authorized several types of gambling. It makes no sense not to get into the sports betting business.

The longer the wait, the more likely other states are to set up their own systems — and rake in revenue that otherwise could go to West Virginia.

Before Christmas, Fluharty said gaining approval of sports betting will be one of his priorities when legislators meet for their annual 60-day regular session, beginning next week. “Sports betting in West Virginia has to happen this session if we are going to have an advantage over other states,” Fluharty observed. “We have to take advantage to get in front of this, instead of always being last.”