West Virginia Online Poker and Gambling Bill OK’d in Senate

West VirginiaThe future looks bright for online poker and gambling regulation in West Virginia after the Senate passed a bill last week that cleared the House in February.

A few minor changes made by the Senate to the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wager Act, HB 2934, means that the House will take another look-see at the measure before sending it to the in-box of Gov. Jim Justice. The Senate vote came in at 26-7 in favor of advancing the measure.

A signature by Gov. Justice on the bill would make West Virginia the fifth state to regulate online poker and gambling, following on the heels of Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The latter has yet to launch their i-gaming regime after enactment by lawmakers in 2017, with progress being stymied by the DoJ Wire Act opinion issued in January.

Online Poker Partnership Needed

That DoJ opinion faces legal challenges and we may eventually see Pennsylvania and West Virginia get in on the shared online poker partnership that currently includes Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. The controversial DoJ ruling forbids interstate wagers, which is a common element of the i-poker alliance among the trio of regulated states.

West Virginia online poker players would certainly benefit from joining the Multi State Internet Gaming Agreement considering that only 1.8 million folks reside in the Mountain State. Population-wise, that’s ahead of Delaware (971,000), but behind Nevada (3,000,000), New Jersey (9,000,000) and Pennsylvania (12,800,000). Ranked 38th among the 50 states, it may not be enough for West Virginia to go it alone in terms of a viable online poker regime.

HB 2934 puts the onus of online poker and gambling regulation on the West Virginia Lottery and advises that a “similar regulatory framework” used in other i-gaming friendly states be employed. The state’s handful of casinos would be permitted to participate as operators. The casinos would be required to pay a tax rate of 15%, which was upped by the House from an initial proposal of 10% before the Senate voted.

Late 2019 or Early 2020 Launch Possible

A license to operate for the first five years would cost $250,000 per casino. Every five years thereafter, licensing would be reduced to $100,000. Research indicates that West Virginia coffers will benefit to the tune of just under $6 million annually once online poker and gambling hits its stride.

That stride won’t come into play anytime soon as the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wager Act won’t take effect for 90 days after approval. But getting up and running is expected to take considerably longer. Sometime in late 2019 is a possibility, with early 2020 perhaps being more likely.

Of course, that all depends on the House approving the minor amendments made by the Senate last week, as well as approval from Gov. Justice. But with sports betting already being offered in West Virginia casinos, it’s apparent that the Mountain State is intent on being in the forefront among states in terms of gambling regulation and offerings, and that includes online poker and casino action.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett