Legalized online gambling in West Virginia is a step closer to becoming a reality after the WV Senate gave its approval on Friday in a 26-7 vote. The legislation went back to the House of Delegates for concurrence and final approval which it received on Saturday, the last day of the session.
The bill now sits on Republican Gov. Jim Justice‘s desk awaiting his signature. Justice has 15 days to sign or veto the legislation or the bill that will legalize the launch of West Virginia online casinos.
Whether he signs the bill may not be a foregone conclusion, but he allowed West Virginia sports betting, including mobile and online, to become legal without his signature in 2018.
The bill would take effect within 90 days of passage. Del. Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley, District 61) led a group of bipartisan legislators in hopes of helping the state’s casino industry. In February, Barret spoke to Online Poker Report and said:
“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.”
A look at the WV online casino bill
State legislators see the legalization of online gaming as a way to add needed revenue via activities that many in the state already engage in. The legislation would allow for the state’s four racetrack casinos and TheGreenbrier to offer iGaming.
Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), a co-sponsor of the bill, recently discussed the bill with the Wheeling Intelligencer.
“It would allow for online gaming – for example, you would have the freedom to play online poker. Currently, there’s a robust illegal market where people are playing online via locations overseas and West Virginia gets zero revenue. We want to shrink the black market and capture that revenue which is leaving the state.”
WV online casinos can include any game found in a traditional casino, including:
Properties offering Internet gaming would pay a $250,000 licensing fee, and the state would receive 15 percent of gross revenue.
That figure 5 percent higher than an earlier version that estimated a total economic impact of $11.6 million and up to $29.9 million by its fifth year, according to gaming experts, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
Those properties would also be allowed to partner with outside companies and operators as is permitted in the state’s sports wagering market.
Officially known as the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, the West Virginia Lottery Commission would license and regulate West Virginia online casinos.
Possible challenges for WV online casinos
While online gaming may be coming to the Mountain State in the coming year, there may be some challenges.
The new legislation allows for the state to join Interstate compacts, noting:
“… it is the intent of the Legislature to authorize interactive wagering within the state and through compacts with other approved jurisdictions.”
However, the recent reinterpretation of the Wire Act throws those agreements into doubt.
The Department of Justice recently extended its delay in implementing the new opinion for an additional 60 days – on top of the 90 days it gave in its initial opinion. However, the interstate compacts remain a question, and the issue may have to play out in courts before the issue is resolved.
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission filed a lawsuit in February against the Department of Justice, seeking an injunction on the Wire Act reinterpretation. Other states are also challenging the DOJ opinion, including:
- New Jersey
West Virginia may face challenges when it comes to generating a large enough player pool, especially when it comes to online poker. The state is ranked 38th in population, and mobile sports wagering has so far struggled to take off.
BetLucky Sportsbook, the only mobile sports betting app to go live in WV, ceased operations last week. Now there are no online sportsbooks in WV as we head into one of the most popular sporting events of the year, March Madness.
Since going live in December, BetLucky only brought in a small percentage of the millions of dollars wagered via mobile sports betting. It’s worth noting that mobile sports betting revenue was gaining traction. Legislators may believe those numbers will continue to rise, and online gaming may also offer an attractive option.