Online Poker and Gambling Legalized in West Virginia

West Virginia

West Virginia’s Lottery Interactive Wagering Act that allows for regulated online poker and gambling is now officially on the books in the Mountain State.

The bill became a law despite lacking the signature of Governor Jim Justice, who chose instead to allow the bill to languish in his in-box. But neither a veto nor a signature from the governor within the allotted time frame following approval from the legislature means that West Virginians will be playing online poker and casino games in due course.

Gov. Justice did the same thing with a sports betting bill in 2018. The reasons for not signing off on both pieces of gambling legislation are believed to be tied in with his family’s ownership of The Greenbrier Casino. It may have the appearance of impropriety and that the governor is using his office for financial gain if he heartily approves such legislation.

A Handful of Licenses

Expecting to gain financially from HB 2934 becoming law are West Virginia coffers, as well as the five land-based casinos that will be permitted to seek licensure as operators. In addition to The Greenbrier, those casinos include the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the Mountaineer Casino and Racetrack, the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, and the Wheeling Island Hotel.

Online poker and gambling license fees have been set at $250,000 for the casinos, with the option to renew every five years for $100,000. Service providers involved in i-gaming operations will pay a $100,000 fee. The tax rate on revenue earned by the casinos has been established at 15%.

All told, the Mountain State estimates to make anywhere from $4 to $6 million in annual revenue from online gambling. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Jersey, as the Garden State pulled in around $38 million last year, not counting sports betting. The difference is the population, as about 9 million folks call New Jersey home, while there are less than 2 million West Virginians.

DoJ Reversal

The Mountain State is the fifth state to regulate online gambling under the state-by-state format made possible by a DoJ opinion in 2011. The DoJ later reversed itself on the same issue earlier this year, but legal challenges are already underway that will certainly force greater clarification as to where the country stands with regard to the antiquated 1961 Wire Act and the opinions on how to interpret that statute that have followed.

The four other states with online poker and gambling legislation are Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The latter has yet to put regulation in play, delayed by the most recent DoJ opinion that calls for all servers facilitating online gambling operations to be located within state boundaries.

West Virginia is not expected to run into the same problems currently experienced by the Keystone State. Regardless, it will take some time for online poker, casino table games and slots to be up and running. Late 2019 or early 2020 seems likely considering the timetables required of other states – excluding Pennsylvania.

The West Virginia Lottery is tasked with regulating online poker and gambling, the same duties it’s been given for sports betting. Whether the Mountain State will partner with Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey in the Multi State Internet Gaming Agreement that combines online poker player pools remains to be seen. Uncertainty continues to surround that alliance due to the DoJ opinion released a couple of months ago.