West Virginia Online Poker: When Will The Mountain State Go All-In?

Posted on October 13, 2020

Minus the lack of complimentary drinks, online gambling apps in West Virginia do a solid job of replicating the in-house experience. But there is something other than a watered-down well vodka tonic that you can only get in person.

Online Poker.

For a number of reasons, online poker in West Virginia remains closer to a dream than reality. And the bulk of those reasons involve issues that can only be untangled by lawyers and lawmakers.

Most importantly, there has not been the type of legal challenge to open online poker to more states in a similar fashion as the Supreme Court ruling that lifted the federal ban on sports gambling in 2018.

The law impeding online poker in West Virginia

John F. Kennedy remains a revered figure in West Virginia, where his primary victory in 1960 signaled to many that America was ready to elect a Catholic president.

But it’s a law Kennedy and brother Robert pushed to get passed that serves as the biggest hindrance for online poker.

The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 sought to fight organized crime, which was one of the scourges of that era. In summary, the act prohibits the use of wire communications for betting across state lines. As currently interpreted, that affects online poker.

The difference between poker and other online games is the presence of other players. Blackjack and slots pit you against a computer. Poker, meanwhile, requires more complicated machinations to pull off with dealers and players.

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Online poker in the US

Three states currently offer poker as part of a joint agreement:

  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Delaware

Pennsylvania may join that partnership, but legislators have not made a decision yet. Complicating matters is the possibility that the Department of Justice will prohibit such an arrangement from continuing.

Online poker is legal in West Virginia. However, WV online casino operators consider it cost-prohibitive because of the state’s relatively small population.

In order for poker to work in West Virginia, it almost certainly needs to be part of a multi-state agreement. Such a process would be much easier with a reinterpretation of the Wire Act.

Where the state stands in the debate

WV Lottery director John Myers welcomes online poker in West Virginia but concedes that he has no timeline for knowing when it may happen.

Our casino partners are working on their own time frames in regards to what gaming options they bring to us for approval,” Myers told PlayWV.

“In the past several months we have had several providers launch mobile sports wagering and iGaming apps in the state, and we expect several of our casinos and their service providers will be adding to their iGaming offerings in the coming months.

“We would love to see the launch of an online poker option with a provider in West Virginia. However under advice from the attorney generals office, that will be delayed until the Department of Justices current opinion regarding the Federal Wire Act is resolved or a studio is built inside the borders of West Virginia.

“That said, we understand that the size of our market and concerns over the Wire Act are likely impacting our casinos and providers business plans in regards to offering online poker in our jurisdiction.”

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