New Online Gambling Bill Introduced in West Virginia

West VirginiaLawmakers in West Virginia are trying once again to regulate online gambling in the Mountain State, but have they missed something out from their proposals?

For the third year running, a bill has been introduced to regulate online gambling in West Virginia. Although neither of the previous two legislative attempts ever made it passed the committee stage, proponents of regulated gambling are optimistic it could be third time lucky due to the state being one of the first to regulate sports betting following the repeal of PASPA last year.

The bill is similar to those that failed to gain any momentum in the past two years inasmuch as it authorizes the West Virginia Lottery Commission to issues online gambling licenses to the state´s five existing brick-and-mortar casinos. Licenses would cost a very modest $50,000, and Gross Gaming Revenues would be taxed at the reasonable rate of 14%.

If passed, the bill would allow licensees to offer online poker and other “authorized” games to players physically located within the state over the age of twenty-one. Players´ funds would have to be maintained in a segregated account, and the language of the bill prohibits bots but appears to allow other software programs such as HUDs.

All Looks Good, but Is There Something Missing?

A quick scan of the bill throws up no nasty shocks. The West Virginia Lottery Commission would be able to create compacts with other regulated states to increase liquidity, there is no “bad actor” language, and penalties exist to prevent unlicensed sites offering interactive gambling to residents of the Mountain State – although goodness knows how they will be enforced.

However, on closer inspection, there appears to be something missing – slots games. According to Section §25-25A-2 of the bill (“Definitions”), an “authorized game” is defined as:

any interactive racetrack, video lottery or interactive table game approved by the commission pursuant to this chapter.

Loosely speaking, slots games could come under the category of “video lottery” inasmuch as there is no skill involved in playing slots and it is very much a lottery whether or not you win, but I was a little surprised not to see the games mentioned specifically. The bill can be found on the West Virginia legislature website. Have a read and see what you think.

What Could Prevent the Passage of the Bill?

Other than the usual anti-gambling campaigners, there are concerns that the state of West Virginia is becoming too reliant on tax revenues from gambling. An analysis of states most at risk from “sin tax volatility” placed West Virginia in joint third place behind Nevada and Rhode Island – and this was before the state´s sports betting operations were up and running.

Furthermore, according to WalletHub´s most recent gambling addiction survey (again completed before sports betting went live), West Virginia is ranked sixth in the table of “Most Gambling-Addicted States”, and the Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia estimated in 2017 that 9% of the state-wide population were showing signs of gambling addiction or classified as “at risk”.

These concerns may delay the passage of the online gambling bill, especially as some lawmakers would prefer to see the impact of sports betting before authorizing any further expansion of gambling. However, there is not a lot of time for the impact to be assessed. West Virginia´s legislative session for 2019 ends on March 9th, so a decision will have to be made pretty quickly – even if it is to wait for another year before regulating online gambling in West Virginia.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett