Several West Virginia delegates joined forces to introduce a new online casino bill on Feb. 8. There is a solid chance of the passing – knock on wood.
House Bill 2934 will amend the current West Virginia code to allow interactive wagering under the management of the West Virginia Lottery.
Del. Jason Barrett (Democrat) led a group of ten delegates responsible for bringing HB 2934 to the floor:
- Eric L. Householder – Republican
- Steve Westfall – Republican
- Mick Bates – Democrat
- Dianna Graves – Republican
- Shawn Fluharty – Democrat
- Vernon Criss – Republican
- Isaac Sponaugle – Democrat
- John Williams – Democrat
- Doug Skaff – Democrat
- Erikka Storch – Republican
Barrett spoke to Online Poker Report about the pending legislation:
“With our iGaming legislation, we seek once again to lead the charge by permitting traditional land-based casino gaming to be conducted via electronic devices. If passed, iGaming has the potential to bring millions of dollars in revenue to our state.”
Online casino gambling in WV is a real possibility
With six Democrats and five Republicans attached to the bill, it appears there is a bipartisan effort to expand casino gambling by granting licenses to West Virginia casinos in the state.
It is no surprise the biggest reason for introducing the bill seems to be revenue. The bill begins:
“The Legislature finds that the operation of the four racetracks and the historic resort hotel in this state play a critical role in the economy of this state…”
One only has to look at WV sports betting revenue, which includes mobile and online sports betting, to understand the potential revenue to the state in the form of taxes. From August 2018 to Feb. 9, WV sportsbooks brought in $829,424.19 for the state.
Legal online casino gambling has the opportunity to bring in more. Legislators believe legalizing the activity is essential because illegal online gaming is a threat to WV residents.
From the bill:
“The Legislature finds that illegal interactive wagering channels operating throughout the United States pose a critical threat to the safety and welfare of the citizens of West Virginia and that creating civil and criminal penalties to prosecute illegal operators, while transferring this black market demand into a secure and highly regulated environment, will protect the public and positively benefit state revenues and the state’s economy.”
The bill also claims online casino gambling “serves to protect, preserve, promote and enhance the tourism industry of the state as well as the general fiscal well-being of the state and its subdivisions.”
WV addresses newly issued Wire Act opinion
The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) recently amended its 2011 opinion on the Wire Act.
Originally, the opinion interpreted the Wire Act as applying only to sports betting. However, the new opinion broadens the reach of the Wire Act by stating it applies to all interstate gambling.
Several experts and affected government officials, including Pennsylvania‘s and New Jersey‘s attorney generals, have come out against the new opinion. In a joint letter to the DOJ, the attorney generals wrote, “We can see no good reason for DOJ’s sudden reversal.”
West Virginia Legislators agree with the strongly-worded rebuttal. The bill proactively addresses any objections based on the Wire Act:
“… constitutional lotteries are rightfully authorized as state enterprises consistent with the rights and powers granted to the states under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The federal government is a government of limited and enumerated powers, and powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved for the states and its respective citizens.”
Online casino gambling in WV has had a rocky road
The bill also sought to legalize interactive gaming, including casino games and online poker. Fluharty has been trying to get support for online gaming for a few years now.
Not long after its introduction in the current session, though, the WV Lottery came out in opposition to the bill, choosing to continue to focus on sports betting in WV for the time being.
Unfortunately, at the time Lottery Director John Myers said, “We certainly see the opportunity in iGaming. We fully intend to come back with that at some point.”
The online casino tide may be turning
Maybe that point in time is now.
The legislation was brought to the floor one day after Storch introduced HB 2901, another bill focused on expanding casino gambling in the state by granting satellite casino gambling licenses to licensed racetracks.
Additionally, it appears Fluharty is willing to forgo his proposed legislation in favor of this new bipartisan effort.
If online casino gaming becomes a reality, it is not only the state that will benefit. Look for expanded gaming offerings to benefit all five WV casinos:
- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
- Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort
- The Casino Club at The Greenbrier
- Mardi Gras Casino and Resort
- Wheeling Island Hotel
HB 2934 currently sits in the Judiciary Committee and then will move to the Finance Committee.
Barrett is optimistic at the bill’s chances.
“We have made great steps thus far in providing greater flexibility for the gaming industry in West Virginia, and I am encouraged by the support we have received on this particular iGaming initiative thus far. Our House finance chairman has a real interest in taking up the legislation and I believe it has great potential to pass with bipartisan support both in the House and Senate.”
We won’t have to wait long before we know if online casinos in West Virginia will become a reality, however. The legislative session is scheduled to end on March 9 and bills are due out of committee by Feb. 24, at the latest. Stay tuned.