WV online gambling nearly legal

West Virginia Online Gambling Bill Clears Senate; Finish Line In Sight

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Following a favorable vote in the Senate, West Virginia is on the cusp of becoming the fifth state to legalize online gambling.

After sailing through the House in February, the upper chamber passed the WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (H 2934) by a 26-7 vote on Friday.

With the legislature set to adjourn on March 9, online gambling is just two steps away from becoming law in the Mountain State. Because the Senate made minor amendments to the bill, it will go back to the House for concurrence before it lands on the desk of Gov. Jim Justice for signature.

Of course, the governor’s desk is where efforts for online gambling in Michigan died last year courtesy of an unexpected veto. Justice, it should also be noted, declined to sign the WV sports betting bill which established that state-regulated industry last year.

A look at the WV online gambling bill

As far as online gambling bills go, the West Virginia legislation is prototypical. Regulated online poker and casino games would be available to anyone 21 or older located within state lines.

As with sports betting, interactive licenses will be limited to existing land-based licensees. The bill authorizes five operator permits — one for each WV casino:

  • Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
  • Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort
  • The Casino Club at The Greenbrier
  • Mardi Gras Casino & Resort
  • Wheeling Island Hotel

Licenses come at a cost of $250,000 apiece and are renewable every five years for another $100,000. Platform and service management licenses cost $100,000, and supplier licenses are $10,000.

The state will tax online gambling revenue at a modest rate of 15 percent.

Opportunity knocks for West Virginia

West Virginia isn’t going to be an online powerhouse.

The state is sparsely populated with 1.8 million residents, and that population ranks 49th in disposable income — nearly 25 percent below the national average.

West Virginia does share a border with several larger state economies, including Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Only one of those — Pennsylvania — is an online gambling state.

If West Virginia can attract customers from bordering populations, it should help bolster online revenue. Either way, it’s safe to say that online gambling won’t result in an economic windfall. The fiscal note projects $3.9 million in associated first-year tax revenue.

While online gambling might not be a fiscal panacea, it should provide WV casinos with a shot in the arm. Interactive gaming provides tools to compete in what is becoming an increasingly saturated gaming market.

Not only does online gambling attract new, younger customers, but by tying online rewards to land-based casinos, WV operators should be able to poach in-state and out-of-state customers who are currently frequenting other destinations.

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WV casinos already tied to online gambling

West Virginia’s comprehensive approach to online gambling and its industry-friendly framework should make it an attractive option for online gaming operators. But just how many online casino/poker partnerships might be consummated is unclear.

The WV online gambling bill uses the same language as the WV sports betting law. The number of partnerships/branded websites isn’t codified, but regulators set the number of online sports betting brands at three for each licensee. They’ll likely take a similar approach to online gambling, but they could decide to limit such partnerships.

However it shakes out, there’s a good chance that some existing sports betting partnerships will expand to include online gambling.

Here are the WV sports betting partnerships in place:

The Greenbrier--BetMGM, FanDuelFanDuel, BetMGM
Mardi Gras----IGT/Betgenius
Wheeling Island----IGT/Betgenius

If the state allows multiple partnerships, expect a number of casino- and poker-focused operators to target the new market.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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