West Virginia Needs Interest from Online Poker Operators
When 2020 ended, we lamented that another year had passed without any state-licensed online poker launching in West Virginia. The state legalized it in March of 2019. Even so, it was obvious that the West Virginia Lottery Commission noted too many impediments to launching any time soon. We surmised that a state-sanctioned online poker industry in WV wasn’t even likely in 2021.
Unfortunately, our prediction still stands.
While one of the biggest impediments to online poker – that pesky Wire Act case – ended with a favorable result, there are still two rather significant hurdles in the way. One is the fact that not one online poker operator has signed an agreement with a West Virginia casino to partner for online poker in the state. And the other is that there is no sign that the multi-state interstate poker network is growing. Pennsylvania launched its first state-licensed poker site in late 2019…and it remains alone, not signed on to the network. Michigan launched its first poker site in January 2021, and that state has not indicated any pending talks regarding that interstate agreement.
West Virginia House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty is as anxious as anyone to play online poker from his home state. He was the person behind the bill to legalize igaming in the first place. And he is more than ready to see the poker part of it materialize.
West Virginia is waiting for someone to call.
PokerStars, WSOP, BetMGM…we’re happy to give out some phone numbers if you need them.
West Virginia: On the Record
West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers has been the go-to person for comments regarding the licensing and launching of online gambling websites.
Last October, he 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.”
A few weeks ago, Myers told Pokerfuse that the state was exploring its options with regard to online poker. Specifically, West Virginia was “investigating the possibility of joining an interstate compact.”
Since then, we contacted Myers for an updated statement, considering that the US Department of Justice ended its pursuit of the Wire Act case. We asked if the West Virginia Lottery Commission had started working with online poker operators regarding licenses and eventual site launches. He responded, “We have tested the waters, but at this time, we have not found a property in WV that has an interest in offering peer-to-peer poker should we enter into a compact with other states. We are still investigating the possibility.”
Wire Act Hurdle: Gone
The original concern of the West Virginia Lottery was the Wire Act case. The State of New Hampshire and its online lottery platform provider, NeoPollard, sued the United States Department of Justice and US Attorney General over the DOJ’s 2018-2019 attempt to change precedent. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel had decided in 2011 that the Wire Act pertained only to sports betting. This allowed states to offer online lottery ticket sales and for online poker sites to join across state lines. The DOJ tried to reverse that decision in 2018, so New Hampshire and NeoPollard – backed by numerous other states – sued to invalidate the latest opinion.
Approved but still in limbo. WV Lottery Director John Myers said state casinos probably won’t move forward until the courts resolve a new federal Department of Justice interpretation of the federal Wire Act.https://t.co/OmOujnwVHm
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) April 26, 2019
It worked. The US District Court for the District of New Hampshire ruled in April 2019 that the DOJ could not reverse the 2011 opinion. The judge ordered the latest attempt by the Trump Administration’s DOJ set aside. The Justice Department appealed the case, and that US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in January 2021. It affirmed the lower court’s ruling, invalidating the 2018 DOJ opinion.
Both courts agreed with the 2011 opinion that the Wire Act pertained only to sports betting.
In June of this year, the DOJ made it official that it would not appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
West Virginia no longer needed to worry about running afoul of the Wire Act or the Justice Department.
Multi-State Poker Hurdle
As mentioned, the multi-state online poker network has not been updated since 2017.
The first interstate agreement happened in February 2014. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Delaware Governor Jack Markell agreed that poker operators could share their own player pools across state lines. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed on in October 2017. All of this benefited the WSOP-888poker network, which was the only one in all three states. Still today, it remains the only state-licensed site in Nevada and Delaware.
PokerStars is now live in Pennsylvania and Michigan, as well as New Jersey. BetMGM and BorgataPoker are both on the partypoker platform, which operates in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. And the WSOP just added Pennsylvania to its list of states.
It will behoove all of these operators to link their own player pools in the aforementioned states. However, no states have provided any hint that they are working on said agreements.
The Resurrection of US Online Poker! https://t.co/b9NStbvViz – Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia want cross-border online poker compacts! They could join Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. #PennsylvaniaOnlinePoker #MichiganOnlinePoker #WestVirginiaOnlinePoker pic.twitter.com/cgeI3myD84
— ThisWeekInGambling (@TWiGFeed) July 15, 2021
West Virginia appears to be willing to sign on as well, as it would incentivize poker operators to launch in WV despite its relatively small population and revenue potential.
Lack of Poker Operator Hurdle
There are five land-based casinos operating in West Virginia:
-The Casino Club at the Greenbrier (independent ownership by Governor Justice)
—Sportsbooks operated by FanDuel and BetMGM
-Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races (owned/operated by Penn National Gaming)
—Sportsbook operated by DrafKings
-Mardi Gras Casino and Resort (operated by Delaware North)
—Sportsbook operated by Delaware North’s own Betly
-Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort (owned/operated by Century Casinos)
—Sportsbook operated by William Hill
-Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack (operated by Delaware North)
—Sportsbook operated by Delaware North’s own Betly
BetMGM already works with the Casino Club at the Greenbrier. William Hill and Caesars have previously entered into sports betting-related deals together.
Yaniv Sherman of 888 Holdings told Pokerfuse in May of this year that “we’ll launch (in West Virginia) at some point in time.”
There are connections to be made.
Fluharty in Active Pursuit
WV House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty worked to pass igaming legislation in his state for years. And when he found success in 2019, he was ready to play some online poker.
Under the radar bill (sort of): WV is now one of only a few states that will have #iGaming which I originally introduced a couple years ago. Let's play some poker and raise some revenue!
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) March 28, 2019
He spoke with us last week, noting the importance of launching online poker in West Virginia.
“Following the First Circuit’s ruling in relation to the Wire Act and the DOJ’s decision not to appeal, it is imperative that West Virginia expands its iGaming platform to include online poker. I hear from constituents on a regular basis asking when this will take place as they have been patiently waiting since we passed iGaming. I am confident that John Myers and WV Lottery are actively looking at an opportunity for expansion and that the legislature is willing to help in those efforts in forming a multi-state compact.
“I know that I will be actively pursuing this matter as undoubtedly other states will be doing the same. I look forward to online poker becoming a reality soon.”
Several stars must still align for this all to happen. However, all of the states with online poker – or with the potential to offer online poker – have a vested interest in updating the interstate poker agreement. And when that happens, one might think a poker operator would want to be first in line to launch in WV and link to its sites in other states.
Operators, reach out to Mr. Fluharty. He’s on Twitter. He loves poker. And he wants to get this done.
"That’s a big deal, especially for online poker in West Virginia, and potentially other small states which might want online poker but don’t have the population to support it on their own." #wvpol https://t.co/iIodrYwlu4
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) June 22, 2021
Is online poker legal in your state? Find out!