West Virginia Wants to Follow Pennsylvania into Online Gaming
Recent movements toward a more substantive and lucrative online poker industry in the United States may create a snowball effect. More states are looking at the momentum, as minimal as it may be, and thinking they don’t want to be left out.
West Virginia is one of those states. Just after Pennsylvania finally passed its online gaming legislation, West Virginia State Delegate Shaun Fluharty expressed messages of support on social media, noting his state should be a part of the online gambling industry as it gains momentum. He wants to legalize sports betting, online poker, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) and has introduced bills to do just that.
The problem is that his legislation failed to garner any momentum of its own or support from fellow lawmakers. Fluharty hopes, however, that the news from Pennsylvania will help his cause.
Early 2017 Legislation
It was in March of this year that Fluharty introduced H.3067 in West Virginia. He and cosponsors Delegates Mike Pushkin, Joseph Canestraro, Mick Bates, and Sean Hornbuckle put forward the bill to authorize interactive gaming. Further, the bill would establish licensing requirements as limited to existing gaming facilities, authorize the Lottery Commission to regulate the games, and assess gaming and licensing fees for interactive gaming operators.
In more detail, licensed gaming facilities and race tracks could apply for online gaming licenses, which would cost $50K each. And gross gaming revenue would be taxed at a rate of 14%. Only players allowed within the state’s borders, but the state would be allowed to partner with other regulated online gaming states to share player pools for games like poker. The specifications are very much in line with those set up in New Jersey, which may have been the basis for Fluharty’s legislation.
West Virginia has been investigating taking its lottery online and moving toward online gambling for several years, and the Lottery Commission Director has been open to it in the past in order to keep its own gambling industry competitive with neighboring states.
— Chris Krafcik (@ckrafcik) March 24, 2017
However, the combination of a short legislative session in the spring and opposition from Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead ensured that the bill would not progress this year.
— Chris Krafcik (@ckrafcik) March 24, 2017
Good Time to Build Momentum
The long Pennsylvania fight to expand its gambling industry to include online gaming culminated in the bill’s passage last week. Fluharty had been watching and thinking about the possibilities for West Virginia.
With PA passing sports betting, online poker and daily fantasy legislation today, WV must act this session or be left in the dust. #wvpol
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) October 26, 2017
He’s also keen on legalizing sports betting, paying special attention to the New Jersey case that is preparing for examination by the US Supreme Court. He noted in a Facebook post that the revenue is essential for his state, as is competition with them for that revenue. He knows that the alternative is raising taxes on West Virginia citizens, and that is not the ideal solution. “If we refuse to compete with our bordering states for new revenue, the same playbook will continue to be used. What’s that playbook? Raising taxes. The people are tired of it. #passmybill”
Fluharty is, apparently, keenly aware of the success of New Jersey’s online gaming industry and its continued growth. He also knows that New Jersey just entered into a long-awaited agreement with Nevada and Delaware to share online poker player pools to create more liquidity and grow that segment of the industry quicker. And with Pennsylvania poised to join the ranks of those three states in 2018, West Virginia will be yet another year behind its competition.
Other states are pushing harder for online gambling as well. Michigan legislators are especially serious about legalizing online poker and casino games in both houses of its legislature, and New York is in a solid position to pass its bills in 2018. Illinois is also considering a bill more seriously than in the past. And with momentum from the Pennsylvania law and the move toward shared liquidity, other states will be more motivated to join the movement.
With Fluharty inspired, West Virginia will likely be on the list of states to consider online gambling in early 2018. If he can garner more support before then, he might have a chance.