West Virginia Online Poker on Slow Road to 2021 Launch
It has been more than four months since the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act became law. After bipartisan support and legislative approval, the bill became law without the governor taking any action. Online poker and casino games are now are legal in the state.
Where do things stand now?
In short, the West Virginia Lottery is working on establishing regulations for the new industry, and that is expected to be complete by the summer of 2020. From there, applicants can apply for licenses, the vetting process will take place, and licenses will be issued, after which online gaming operators can prepare to launch their sites.
The original prediction of the first quarter of 2021 seems plausible.
Timeline Thus Far
Efforts to legalize online poker and casino games started years ago, but it wasn’t until 2019 that it all fell into place and found success.
West Virginia State Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced HB.2178 in January 2019. The bill to legalize interactive gaming via changes to the 1931 Code of West Virginia went to the House Judiciary Committee, at which point Delegate Joseph Canestraro signed on as a co-sponsor.
However, in February 2019, Fluharty partnered with Delegate Jason Barrett to introduce a fresher version of the bill. HB.2934 had nine co-sponsors and changed the details a bit, raising the licensing fee for operators dramatically but also reducing the tax rate.
Within two weeks, HB.2934 was through the committee process, underwent a few changes, and passed the House by a 72-to-22 vote.
The Senate took the bill and added more amendments, subsequently passing it by a 26-to-7 vote. Those changes sent it back to the House for reconsideration, and the House did pass it by a vote of 78-to-18 on March 9, the last day on the calendar to get it done.
From there, the bill was written in its final state, including all amendments, and sent to the governor for his signature. Justice did not sign it but also did not veto it, so the bill became law by default.
The legalization of online poker is a no brainer, as obviously poker is a game of skill. Congrats West Virginia, and the folks in WV!
It's Official: West Virginia Legalizes Online Casinos, Poker https://t.co/5kBwrx5RNL
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) March 28, 2019
Within a span of three months, process was complete.
Four Months of Waiting
There is a good reason that nothing happened for the first three months after the bill passed and was signed into law. There was a 90-day waiting period, prohibiting it from going into effect until three months after its passage.
At that time, Lottery Director John Myers said that an original plan to finalize the rules of the industry by June 2020 was too constrictive, so they pushed it out. “We got them to move it back a few months just to give us time to get through there.”
Just after the first week of June, the West Virginia Lottery Commission could begin the process of establishing its interactive gaming framework.
However, there was silence from the Commission until the end of July. At that time, WV MetroNews reported that the West Virginia Lottery planned to officially file its emergency rules for internet gaming by the summer of 2020.
While the Commission has started a draft of those rules, its members want to make sure they use the proper terminology and work with the casinos to ensure the rules are cohesive and workable. They may also visit New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, the other states that have legalized online poker and casino games. “We want to go and visit some states that have that product so we can make sure we are doing it the right way as well,” Director Myers said.
Since the filing of the rules will only begin the licensing process, it will take quite a few months for license applications to be screened and approved and for poker sites and gaming providers to prepare to launch their products.
This puts the estimated launch date into 2021 – as originally predicted – but possibly into the summer of that year, if the process is anywhere as slow as it has been in Pennsylvania.
What We Know
There are five gambling establishments in operation in West Virginia:
–The Casino Club at the Greenbrier
–Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races (operated by Penn National Gaming)
–Mardi Gras Casino and Resort (owned by Delaware North)
–Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort (owned by Eldorado Resorts)
–Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack (owned by Delaware North)
Since Eldorado is already partnered with PokerStars in the American market, it is likely that Mountaineer Casino would use PokerStars for its online offerings.
Every property that wants a license will be required to pay a $250,000 licensing fee, and that license will then be valid for five years with $100,000 required for every subsequent five-year renewal. Once up and running, the sites will be required to pay 15% of their gross gaming revenue in taxes.
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