Among the six states with legal online casinos, West Virginia might not necessarily be the first market to come to mind. States such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Michigan generate many of the headlines in this area. However, the Mountain State still holds its own, even as a smaller market.
Shawn Fluharty, Minority Whip in the West Virginia House of Delegates, realized the importance of WV online casinos and was instrumental in passing them through legislation. Fluharty recently spoke about the differences in the legislative process between sports betting and online casinos on the Safe Bet Show podcast.
Why West Virginia online casinos were early to launch
Online casinos in West Virginia got in the game rather early. It became the fourth state, following Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to pass online casino legislation in 2020.
Fluharty understood that online casinos are much more profitable. He even had in mind that the tax revenue would benefit worthy causes within the state, such as The Promise Scholarship, which allows future college students to attend in-state institutions at a discounted price.
Since sports are so popular in the country, sports betting gets much more attention compared to online casinos. As for evidence, 38 states have legalized sports betting, whereas there are only six states for iGaming. Fluharty used a golf analogy to determine the difference between the two. He said last week to Martin Lycka, host of the Safe Bet Show podcast:
“In golf, drive for show, putt for dough. When it comes to sports betting and iGaming, sports betting is for show, iGaming is dough. Meaning, the money we thought was coming with sports betting, which is a bit of a falsehood, actually does come with iGaming.”
Fluharty spoke to the fact that online casino legislation has been a slow burn throughout the country. While everyone knows of and is aware of sports betting, the same can’t be said for online casinos.
“I serve with a lot of people that struggle to silence their cell phones during a committee meeting,” Fluharty said. “And now we’re trying to get them to understand how an iCasino can be on their phone. There’s clearly an education gap when it comes to those who are passing laws in this country.”
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What’s next with West Virginia sports betting?
West Virginia is one of the more mature markets in the sports betting vertical. With this being the sixth full NFL season for sports betting, the state’s handle numbers have taken a dip.
The Mountain State reported $47.7 million in total October bets. This is a slight increase from September’s $44.5 million handle, but a 16.3% year-over-year decrease.
While WV sports betting might have hit its peak by legalizing wagering in August 2018, the industry is in a reflective period, according to Fluharty.
Now that there is much more data available, states can now attack consumer protection issues, as well as protect players on the field and court. Ohio passed a law that bans bettors who threaten players on social media. Fluharty said there needs to be communication between states:
“I border Ohio and Pennsylvania and if Ohio passes a law that says if you threaten a player we’re going to take away your ability to bet. But if we don’t share that information with West Virginia or Pennsylvania, then it doesn’t really have any teeth to it.
“Another area we’re going to have in many states is interstate cooperation with the regulatory side to share this information so we’re properly protecting not just the players on the field but those who have the phone in their hand and playing as well.”
Fluharty has been a significant member of the gaming industry, not only in West Virginia, but on a national level, too. In addition to his role as Minority Whip, Fluharty serves as the president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS). He’s scheduled to speak at the NCLGS meetings next month in Florida. Along with these hats, Fluharty is also Play’n GO’s Head of Government Affairs.