Charleston, there is a problem.
The West Virginia Lottery is not backing the recent online gambling bill introduced by Rep. Shawn Fluharty last week, which legalizes online poker and casino games.
Under the new bill, the WV Lottery would manage online casinos just as it does WV sports betting.
WV sports betting is the focus
The Lottery is citing sports betting as the reason it wants to wait to pursue online casino games.
On Friday, Lottery Director John Myers appeared in front of the House Finance Committee. He expressed the desire to get through the rollout of online sports betting before expanding online gambling.
“We certainly see the opportunity in iGaming,” Myers said. “We fully intend to come back with that at some point.”
Currently, all five WV casinos have retail sportsbooks:
- 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
To date, BetLucky.com is the only WV mobile sports betting app. It services Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras Casino.
Sports betting regulations provides each casino with the opportunity to offer up to three co-branded online sportsbooks.
That leaves the potential for 13 additional online WV sportsbooks.
Some thought the success of sports betting would fuel the online gaming expansion effort. Now, it seems as if it is the success of sports betting that is thwarting the plans for the opening of WV online casinos.
Expect WV sports betting to keep the Lottery busy this year. While understandable, the Lottery not backing the online casino bill is certainly disappointing.
The Lottery still focusing on WV online gambling expansion
The Lottery might not think its ready to take on online casinos, but it is still focusing on growing revenue with its existing online lottery games.
Currently, the law stipulates lottery players can purchase keno tickets only in licensed bars and clubs. Players can, however, cash them out at any lottery retailer.
Meyers said the Lottery would back bills to expand video keno to more locations, including convenience stores.
Additionally, there is the support to expand the role of lottery machine distributors by giving it the opportunity to operate retail locations.
The Lottery is finally seeing increased revenue for the first time in recent years. Casino and gaming expansion in neighboring Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland have impacted the Lottery’s bottom line by enticing players to stay at home.
The Lottery surpassed its revenue expectations this year by $25.5 million. Through November, it has brought in $10.5 million more for the state then it did last year.
WV sports betting is thought to be giving the edge back to the Mountain State since Ohio and Maryland don’t have legal sports betting yet. It is reasonable to believe the Lottery benefits from sports bettors crossing state lines.
Myers credits the increase in revenue to:
- Online game sales
- Huge Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots
Regardless of whether WV online gambling expands this year or not, it seems as if it is only a matter of time. There is no denying the popularity of online gaming and the potential impact on the state.
Look at New Jersey, for instance. It just released its December 2018 revenue figures. Online casino gaming brought in more than $29 million for the month, setting another record in a year of record-setting revenue numbers.
WV online casinos combined with mobile sports betting could be a powerful combination to filling the state’s coffers.