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West Virginia is positioning itself as one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to gambling.
The Mountain State was among the first to jump at the sports betting opportunities (land-based and online) created by the Supreme Court’s repeal of PASPA in May 2018. And now it has its sights set on online gambling.
House lawmakers have passed H 2934, which would legalize online casinos and online poker in the state. The so-called West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act breezed through the lower chamber by a 72-22 vote on Friday. It now heads to Senate committees, where it should find a similarly favorable audience.
If the full Senate passes the legislation, it will land on the desk of Gov. Jim Justice to sign into law. West Virginia could become the fifth US state with legal online poker.
That’s good news for gamblers in WV — and for other online gambling efforts across the country.
The bill, introduced by Del. Jason Barrett and 10 co-sponsors, would authorize licensed West Virginia casinos to offer online poker and casino games to any eligible player within the state.
It calls for a modest tax rate of 15 percent and an industry-friendly license fee of $250,000. That makes it amenable to the state’s casino operators — and barring radical changes — the bill should have widespread support.
West Virginia’s foray comes in the aftermath of the new Wire Act opinion from the US Department of Justice. That’s an excellent sign if you’re a supporter of legal, regulated online gambling.
There was concern that the opinion would cause enough uncertainty to slow down legislative efforts. Looking at West Virginia, along with efforts in Kentucky and chatter out of Michigan, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
West Virginia is effectively thumbing its nose at the opinion. That may embolden other states to continue their legislative efforts surrounding online gambling. Passage of a WV online gambling bill could help alleviate concerns in other statehouses.
Tepid lawmakers will have to consider that in spite of the Wire Act opinion:
West Virginia arriving ahead of Massachusetts, New York, Illinois online casinos, or Michigan online gambling would have been shocking five years ago, but the Mountain State has been a serious contender in each of the last few.
It was our sleeper pick in December, with the state’s prospects summed up thusly:
With the state continually looking for new streams of revenue and job creation, and with its casinos facing stiff competition from neighboring states, online gambling could be a good fit. As it has been to date, a fairly conservative legislature will continue to be the primary hangup.
The reticence to “expand” gambling could change, however, if lawmakers get a taste of online sports betting’s consumer protections and revenue.
West Virginia first landed on our radar way back in 2014. John Musgrave, former director of the state lottery, was quoted by local press as saying, “We’re still exploring (online gaming) because we feel that’s the way the industry’s moving, so we want to plan for it.”
With its neighbors going online and casino revenues going south, WV lawmakers considered online gambling bills in both 2017 and 2018.
As casinos and the state now reap the benefits of sports betting — including online sports betting sites — legalizing online gambling is the next logical step to strengthen the existing industry and increase the flow of tax revenue.
And it looks like West Virginia may do just that.