West Virginia is officially the fifth U.S. state to legalize online gambling.
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place Wednesday, as the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (known as measure HB 2934) passed through the office of Governor Jim Justice without a veto, therefore becoming law.
The Governor’s office was the final obstacle in the way of HB 2934, which makes online gambling, including poker, legal within the West Virginia state borders.
The bill passed by landslide margins in both the West Virginia state House and Senate, and HB 2934 was sent to the desk of Gov. Justice for approval on March 9. From that date, the Governor had 15 days (excluding Sundays) to officially sign the bill into law, or veto the bill. If Gov. Justice did neither by March 27, the measure would automatically become law.
The 15-day deadline came and went, expiring Wednesday with no action from the Governor. The WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act now goes into effect 90 days from this official passing, so theoretically it will be legal to gamble online in West Virginia by late June.
In reality, it will almost certainly take longer for the Mountain State’s online gambling operators to get up and running, but as of Wednesday, all legal hurdles have been passed.
AVOIDING A LAST-MINUTE VETO
Both the state House and Senate overwhelmingly approved HB 2934, with the bill passing by a 72-22 vote in the House in February, and by a 26-7 count in the Senate in March.
Despite the major support for online gambling from the state legislature, the final step to legalization was not a sure thing.
Michigan went through the same legal process at the end of 2018, with an online gambling bill passing decisively in both the state House and Senate. Much like West Virginia, the bill was one Governor’s signature away from being passed into law, but Gov. Rick Snyder unexpectedly vetoed the bill just days before his gubernatorial term was about to end in December.
Supporters of the WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act had to wait out the 15-day deadline to find out if HB 2934 would suffer a similar fate at the hands of Gov. Justice. That wait is now over, and West Virginia joins Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania as U.S. states that can legally offer online gambling.
Legalized sports betting passed in similar fashion in West Virginia in March 2018, going into law after Gov. Justice failed to act on the bill.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ONLINE POKER IN WEST VIRGINIA
With HB 2934 in place, West Virginia’s five land-based casinos can now apply for interactive gaming licenses, which will allow those casinos to offer online casino games, and poker, in an online format to anyone over age 21. Players must be located within state borders while they play, and as of now all online poker player pools will be confined to only include players from West Virginia.
Just three months ago, U.S. poker players had reason to look forward to the possibility of merged player pools forming amongst the states that offered legal, regulated online poker. WSOP/888Poker is already doing this, as players that log on to the WSOP/888 network of sites in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware can compete against the entire combined player pool from the three states.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as the fourth and fifth states to legalize online gambling, could have played parts in expanding this merged pool even further. In January, however, the U.S. Department of Justice threw a wrench into those plans, issuing a reversal of opinion on the Wire Act and effectively declaring that all gambling transactions that cross state lines are illegal.
Unless this changes, West Virginia’s online poker players will only be able to compete against other players within the state.
WEST VIRGINIA’S ONLINE POKER OPERATORS
Under the rules of HB 2934, five permits for interactive gaming licenses are available statewide, and only the casinos already operating with a land-based license are eligible to apply. Casinos can apply for a permit at a cost of $250,000 for a five-year interactive gaming license, renewable every five years at a price of $100,000.
The five land-based casinos in West Virginia include:
- The Casino Club at the Greenbrier
- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
- Mardi Gras Casino & Resort
- Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort
- Wheeling Island Hotel
If the Mountain State’s casinos follow the same path as neighboring state Pennsylvania, major online poker operators like Partypoker, WSOP/888, and PokerStars could form partnerships with these casinos to offer online poker in the state.
PokerStars already has an agreement with Eldorado Resorts to operate online poker in the 11 states in which Eldorado Resorts owns properties. Among these 11 states is West Virginia, as the Mountaineer Casino is an Eldorado property.
West Virginia has a population of 1.79 million, and legal online gambling could draw increased tourism from neighboring states like Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia. The state will take a 15 percent tax from online gambling revenue.
Early estimates indicate that the actual launch of the state’s online gambling and poker sites could happen in late 2019 or early 2020.