West Virginia Passes Interactive Wagering Act, Sends to Governor
In a move that was surprising to many and impressive to all, West Virginia passed a bill to legalize online poker and casino games through both houses of its legislature.
As the 2019 legislative session came to a close, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act moved through both houses. Amendments were minor but attached to require new votes, but nothing stopped the bill from passage and a place on the desk of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, where it now awaits his signature.
The success of HB.2934 can be primarily attributed to Delegates Shawn Fluharty and Jason Barrett. The former had been advocating for online gambling for several years, and the proper partnerships in 2019 helped get it done.
While the bill still awaits its final approval, West Virginia is very close to becoming the fifth state in America to legalize online poker and the fourth to authorize online casino games.
How It Happened
Fluharty kicked off the efforts by introducing a bill in early January. HB.2178 was similar to bills he had proposed in years past, and he was ready to do it again. Fellow Delegate Joseph Canestraro signed on as the bill’s co-sponsor, though the bill didn’t show much movement.
One month later, Barrett introduced a bill, HB.2934, with Fluharty as one of many cosponsors. The bipartisan proposal differed from Fluharty’s in some significant ways, such as raising the licensing fee but lowering the tax rate.
The fast track then began. After HB.2934 was introduced on February 8, it took less than two weeks to bring it up in the House Judiciary Committee for debate. At that time, a few changes were made, and the bill passed through that committee. The House Finance Committee then waived it through to the House floor, where it had its first reading on February 20, second one the following day, and third reading on February 22.
That third reading in the House led to a vote for HB.2934, and the 72-to-22 vote showed overwhelming support and sent it on to the Senate.
iGaming has passed the WV Senate. The House will concur with the Senate and it will head to the Governor's desk. Congratulations to everyone involved the past few years in both sports betting and iGaming. WV is ahead of the curve. It feels good to say that. #wvpol
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) March 8, 2019
#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
On March 5, action on the Senate side of the legislature began, and readings took place over the days that followed. Minor amendments were added along the way, and on Friday, March 8, the Senate passed the bill by a 26-to-7 vote. Since the bill had changed, it had to go back to the House of Delegates for reapproval, which happened on Saturday, March 9. That vote of 78-to-18 completed the legislative action.
HB.2934 passed on the last possible day, as the legislature adjourned at midnight on March 9.
— Jason Barrett (@JasonBarrettWV) March 9, 2019
The West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act is set up to offer interactive gaming licenses for an initial price of $250,000. Every five years, operators may renew the licenses for $100,000 each. One license gives the operator permission to offer online poker, slots, and table games.
Gross gaming revenue will be taxed at a rate of 15%.
Players located in West Virginia – residency verification not required but geolocation will prove physical location – will be able to play if 21 years or older.
Five licenses can be awarded in West Virginia, one for each of the land-based casino properties:
–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)
The West Virginia Lottery Commission shall establish and enforce all regulations pertaining to the industry, and the process may begin at any time.
— Poker Alliance (@ppapoker) March 8, 2019
In the Hands of Justice
Governor Justice now faces a decision regarding the bill. He may sign it, which immediately puts it into motion for the steps toward implementation. He may veto it. Or he may do nothing, which will allow the bill to become law by default.
It would seem that Justice would sign the bill considering the overwhelming amount of support found in both houses of the legislature on both sides of the political aisle. However, Justice did not sign last year’s sports betting bill, rather he allowed it to become law by not acting on it. Some say his decision had to do with the fact that his family owns the Casino Club at the Greenbrier, and he avoided signing to bill to avoid allegations of a conflict of interest.
At this time, Justice has given no indication as to how he will respond to the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act.