Will more states follow West Virginia toward online gambling this year?

Could US Online Poker Be On The Verge Of A Gold Rush?

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Michigan was poised to become the fifth state with legal online gambling last year, but an unexpected veto by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder put the kibosh on those plans.

The good news is that the sponsor is taking another bite at the apple this year. The even better news is that legal Michigan online casinos would make it the sixth state to legalize online gambling, after being leapfrogged by West Virginia.

Like Snyder, WV Gov. Jim Justice didn’t put his signature at the bottom of H 2934. But unlike Snyder, he didn’t veto it. The WV online gambling bill became law when Justice declined to act before the procedural deadline.

Legislative ambition and gubernatorial inaction allowed the Mountain State to become the fifth to legalize online poker.

The state of US online poker

Legal online poker is currently available in three states: New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. A fourth state, Pennsylvania, will launch its first regulated poker sites on July 15 — some 21 months after passing an enabling law.

Based on previous timelines, West Virginia is at least one year away from launch.

The good news is that the three active states are members of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association (MSIGA). Membership involves an interstate agreement that allows operators to pool online poker customers.

The bad news is that those three states represent just 4% of the total US population. Even pooled together, online poker traffic is paltry in legal US markets.

MSIGA in jeopardy

But there’s some more good news. Pennsylvania and West Virginia have the opportunity to join the MSIGA. That would more than double the current liquidity and create a player pool of around 28 million from which to draw.

Of course, there’s more bad news too. A highly controversial opinion issued by the US Department of Justice has thrown online gambling into a state of uncertainty. The DOJ’s new reinterpretation of the Wire Act holds that the 1961 law applies to all forms of online gambling — not just sports betting.

That opinion has thrown the legality of the MSIGA into question.

Even if the current members don’t disband the association, it’s unlikely new states would consider joining until the Wire Act matter is permanently resolved — either by the DOJ or in federal court.

More dominoes set to fall?

With less than two million residents, West Virginia won’t necessarily impact online gambling on a national scale. But it’s an important state in its own way.

In the months following the release of the new Wire Act opinion, some expressed concern that it could grind legislative efforts to a halt. As such, West Virginia pushing forward to legalizing online gambling exerts some legislative pressure on other states.

Essentially, the small state has thumbed its nose at the DOJ and thrown down the gauntlet to other states.

Its big brother also provided a shot in the arm for the industry. Virginia included online gaming in a new law that could bring casinos, sports betting, and online gambling to the Commonwealth.

Michigan may be keen on finishing what it started last year, but it’s not the only state exploring online gambling in 2019. The developments in Virginia and West Virginia may be the kindling needed to reignite the online poker fire in the US.

- 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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