West Virginia House Approves Online Gambling, Sends to Senate
Only one state has joined the ranks of states with legal online poker in the past five years, and that was Pennsylvania in 2017. Other state lawmakers have proposed bills, some have pushed them through committees, and even one (hello, Michigan) passed an online poker bill all the way through both houses only to have the governor veto it.
It’s been a rough grind for online poker and internet gambling advocates.
West Virginia was one of the states that introduced a bill in past years, and Delegate Shawn Fluharty was ready to do more than watch New Jersey rake in millions upon millions of dollars of internet gaming revenue. He took his time, put the ducks (and lawmakers) in a row, and found a like-minded representative in Delegate Jason Barrett.
In just a few weeks, Fluharty and Barrett have moved a bill through committees and to the House floor, and the bill passed the House this week with overwhelming support. It now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to receive the same warm welcome.
West Virginia is speeding its way toward online gambling legalization in record fashion.
A Whirlwind Week
The West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, also known as HB.2934, was introduced by Barrett on February 8. Fluharty and nine other lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors, and the bill went to the House Judiciary Committee.
On February 19, that committee took up the bill, amended and rewrote it, and passed it. The House Finance Committee then waived it on through to the House floor.
Update on iGaming legislation: 2nd reference to Finance has been waived. The bill now goes directly to the House floor. #fasttrack
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) February 20, 2019
The first reading in the House was on February 20, with a second reading on February 21 leading to a committee amendment passing by a voice vote.
On Friday, February 22, the third reading of the bill led to a House vote. HB.2934 then passed by a significant majority of 72-to-22, and it went on to the Senate.
iGaming cruises through the House by a vote of 72-22. May those 22 receive 7/2 off-suit on a regular basis. ** fist bumps @JasonBarrettWV **
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) February 22, 2019
Support Drowning Out Opposition
Fluharty exudes confidence about the interactive wagering bill and believes the bill is on a fast track to pass through the Senate and become law. If the House vote count is any indication, his estimation is on point.
When I pulled up to the Capitol this morning I had "Fight the Power" blaring. It sounded 10x better leaving just now. What a day.
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) February 20, 2019
As Fluharty said on the House floor even before the vote, “I think we press the green button and press the green button and get some freedom here in West Virginia and play some poker. If you want to play against me, good luck.”
Those opposed to the bill have shown that they don’t understand the bill, the ways in which legalizing online gambling will protect consumers, and the technology associated with interactive gaming that will ensure its compliance with regulations.
A solid example is Republican Delegate Tom Fast, who voted against HB.2934. According to Metro News, he told the floor, “Right now, it is not legal in this state. If you read the prelude in this bill, it walks about how we need to capture a huge black market and then put it into regulation in our state and then tax it.” He then went on, “I thought gambling was supposed to really enhance our tourism industry and bring people in. This is a mechanism to allow people to gamble on their cell phone sitting hundreds of miles away or even out of state.”
Fast is, of course, incorrect. If he had read the entirety of the bill and asked Barrett or Fluharty about that concern, he would have known that the technology used to regulate online gambling is advanced and ensures that online players are located within the state.
Further, Fast alleged, “It says in the bill that the entities can have agreements with other governments. Government is defined as any other state or local governments.”
What he didn’t acknowledge is that this is one of the benefits of the bill, as legal agreements can allow online poker sites to connect with those in other states to boost player pools and increase revenue for all states involved. This has worked out well so far for Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. And all signs point to Pennsylvania joining the network as well.
Continued Fast Track Required
The West Virginia calendar shows that the legislature adjourns at midnight on March 9. This offers two weeks for the Senate to pass the bill. If it chooses to offer any amendments, it will need to return to the House for another vote.
The overwhelming vote of support in the House is likely to find the same in the Senate, with few – if any – amendments necessary.
With momentum behind HB.2934, it seems likely that the bill will pass through the Senate committees and a floor vote this week, barring any unusual and unforeseen circumstances.
West Virginia is set to become the fifth state to offer legal online poker and the fourth to also allow online casino games in tandem.
#iGaming, which has potential to bring millions in revenue to our state, passed the WV House of Delegates today with overwhelming bipartisan support. I was proud to be the lead sponsor this legislation and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill. #wvpol
— Jason Barrett (@JasonBarrettWV) February 22, 2019