Despite its conservative reputation, West Virginia has emerged as one of the most ambitious states in the US when it comes to modernized gambling. Land-based casinos have been legal since 2007, though slot machines (considered “video lotteries” by the state) have been around for longer.
Today, the Mountain State is one of the few in which all three major forms of online gambling are legalized:
Lawmakers began their efforts with the West Virginia Lottery Sports Wagering Act (S 415) in 2018 and managed to get regulated WV sports betting off the ground just in time for that NFL season. Despite some early difficulties, implementation eventually came to include online betting.
The very next year, the legislature approved another update to the state’s gaming industry. Lawmakers passed the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (H 2934) in 2019, legalizing full-scale online gambling — including online poker.
The West Virginia Lottery licenses and regulates online gambling in the state.
Online operators across all verticals must partner with a land-based licensee in order to access the West Virginia market. Each licensee — in this case the five WV casinos — can deploy as many as three sportsbook brands, plus one apiece for casino and poker.
Here’s the current structure of alliances for WV online gambling:
|The Greenbrier||--||--||FanDuel, MGM|
|Hollywood||--||--||DraftKings, William Hill|
No legal option for real-money online poker exists in West Virginia at the moment. The WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act makes it legal under the authority of the lottery. However, the lottery has not yet established the necessary regulatory framework to begin accepting license applications.
There’s one slight sign of progress, in that BetMGM entered the market for sports in January 2020. MGM’s offers online gambling in partnership with GVC, which owns partypoker. Thus, there is at least one online poker company with market access at the moment.
That said, it’s unclear whether WV will be an appealing market for online poker operators. Its small population may mean it lacks the necessary players to keep games running on its own. Even once licenses are available, it may be that no one is interested in opening an online poker room unless interstate liquidity-sharing becomes an option.
In the meantime, West Virginians can enjoy legal sweepstakes poker with real-money prizes through Global Poker.
The current situation for online casino gaming and slots in West Virginia is much the same as for online poker. The state lottery is working on regulation to make it possible, but even preliminary regulations aren’t due until July 1. Add to that the time required for the licensing process and the most optimistic timeline would have sites going live towards the end of 2020.
That said, the future potential is much greater than for online poker. Because casino games are played individually, against the house, they don’t suffer from the same liquidity issues in low-population markets that poker does. Furthermore, although neither DraftKings nor FanDuel has a poker product, both now operate online casinos in other states and will probably do the same in West Virginia when the time comes.
On the other hand, the state’s low population may discourage the likes of Evolution Gaming from establishing a live-dealer studio in the state. Live-dealer casino games are popular in New Jersey and are coming soon to Pennsylvania. It’s unclear for now whether West Virginians will get the opportunity to enjoy such games.
There are three online operators offering browser and mobile sports betting in West Virginia.
DraftKings and FanDuel launched their sportsbooks within a few days of each other in August 2019. BetMGM followed in January 2020, just in time for Super Bowl LIV.
West Virginia’s sports betting bill allows each of the state’s five land-based casinos to have up to three partners for sports betting. Hypothetically, that means that there could eventually be as many as 15 online sportsbooks in the state. In practice, however, the market may not be large enough to support that much competition.
The West Virginia Lottery does not offer online ticket sales or other forms of online gaming at this time. The state is, however, a licensed jurisdiction for online wagering on national horse and greyhound races.
Additionally, real-money fantasy sports (including daily fantasy sports) operators serve customers in West Virginia.
West Virginia has five establishments which offer land-based casino gambling:
These properties are the only ones authorized to act as licensees for online gambling. Each is eligible to use up to three partners to provide retail and/or online sports betting, plus one apiece for online casino and poker.
Established in 1778, the Greenbrier is among the oldest resorts in the US. It was not until recently that it became a gambling destination, however. It received permission from the county to open its Casino Club in 2008, though state regulations stipulate that it’s only open to guests. This includes those staying at the hotel, as well as members of its Sporting Club or Golf & Tennis Club. The Casino Club has 320 slot machines and 37 gaming tables.
The resort shares the name of Greenbrier County, where it is located, in the town of White Sulphur Springs. That’s in the southeast corner of the state, very close to the Virginia border.
The Greenbrier is independently owned by the Justice Family Group, which purchased it in 2009 after it filed for bankruptcy. That company is owned by businessman Jim Justice, who would go on to be elected state Governor in 2016.
The Greenbrier currently has two partners for online sports betting: FanDuel and BetMGM.The former also provides its Casino’s Club’s retail sportsbook.
Hollywood Casino is located in Charles Town in the far northeastern corner of the state — close to Baltimore, Washington D.C. and the Pennsylvania border. The attached racetrack features year-round thoroughbred horse racing.
Hollywood is owned by Penn National, which has a market access partnership in place with DraftKings. As such, it has elected to use the latter as its online sports betting partner. It also offers retail sports betting in partnership with British bookmaker William Hill.
It has more than 2,500 slot machines, a 16-table poker room, and a standard array of pit games like craps, blackjack, roulette and various types of casino poker.
Mountaineer is home to the state’s other thoroughbred racetrack, formerly known as Waterford Park, renamed Mountaineer Park in 1987. In 1994, obtained permission to install slot machines, becoming the first “racino” in the US. To these, it added table games in 2007. It is located in New Cumberland, at the far northern tip of the state, about an hour west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Until recently, Mountaineer was owned by Eldorado Resorts, which will acquire Caesars this year. Last year, however, Eldorado sold the operating business to Colorado-based Century Casinos, and the physical property to Vici Properties, which now leases it to Century.
Mountaineer currently has no online option for sports betting. It does, however, have a retail sportsbook, operated by William Hill.
The casino has 1,100 slot machines, 32 table games and a 14-table poker room. The racetrack operates over six months of the year and will have 130 days of live races in the 2020 season.
The state’s remaining two casinos are owned and operated by the same company, Delaware North. Mardi Gras is located in Cross Lanes, in the west-central portion of the state, close to the capital Charleston. Wheeling Island is located on the island of the same name, along the state’s northern arm, not far from Mountaineer. That island is in the Ohio river, which forms the border with the eponymous state, and is sandwiched between the towns of Wheeling, West Virginia, and Bridgeport, Ohio.
Both casinos have attached greyhound tracks, the only two in the state. Since the legalization of casino gaming in 2007, both offer a full suite of products including poker rooms. Mardi Gras has nearly 1,000 slot machines and Wheeling Island over 1,110. The former’s poker room is larger, however, with 18 tables to Wheeling Island’s 9.
Delaware North was the first company in the state to launch online sports betting with its BetLucky app, but this lasted barely three months before a legal dispute took it offline, probably permanently. Since then, its two casinos have had neither online nor retail sports betting, though they do offer betting on races.
Online sports betting, casino gaming, slots and poker are all legal in West Virginia. However, only sports betting has the necessary regulations in place so far. The others will be regulated in coming months, and the first sites should go live late in 2020 or perhaps early 2021.
There are five casinos in the state that are eligible to offer the various forms of online gambling. Each can have up to three partners for sports betting, plus one for online casino and one for online poker.
Theoretically there could be up to 15 online sportsbooks, 5 online casinos and 5 online poker rooms in West Virginia.
In reality, though, only online casinos are likely to hit the cap. At the moment, 15 sportsbooks sounds like a lot for a state with such a modest population. And it remains to be seen whether the WV market is large enough to attract any online poker sites at all.
The current timeline for online casino looks like the first sites could go live as soon as late 2020. The timeline for online poker is considerably less certain, as it depends on the level of interest among operators and regulators.
West Virginia’s rules are similar to most other states with legal online gambling. The minimum age is 21 and online gambling is open to visitors as well as state residents. One must, however, be located within the physical borders of the state in order to bet on West Virginia online gambling sites.
There are various reasons an adult in West Virginia could be excluded from online gambling. Employees of the state’s casinos are forbidden from gambling, for instance, and the state lottery maintains a self-exclusion registry for problem gamblers.
That’s an important unanswered question. Because of West Virginia’s small population, interstate shared liquidity may be a necessary precondition to the viability of online poker in the state. Delaware, for instance, which is even smaller, shared a player pool with Nevada from the state. New Jersey later started sharing its traffic with those two states.
However, there is an ongoing legal battle between the New Hampshire Lottery and the Department of Justice which will have ramifications on the legality of interstate shared liquidity. New states are unlikely to join any such interstate compacts until that is resolved.
It’s not clear yet. Third-party suppliers must partner with a land-based casino in order to offer WV online gambling. So far, PokerStars does not have a public deal with any WV casino licensee.
Operators pay $250,000 apiece for the privilege of offering online gambling in West Virginia. Licenses are valid for five years, and renewal costs $100,000.
The state taxes WV online gambling revenue at a rate of 15%. WV sports betting revenue is taxed at a rate of 10%.
The West Virginia Lottery regulates all gambling in the state, including online gambling.
With regulators set to file temporary rules with the Secretary of State, expedited online gambling could be coming to WV as soon as July.
BetMGM becomes the third mobile sports betting app available in WV, alongside DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
WV Lottery officials are taking the first steps toward building a regulated online gambling industry, seeking input from other US markets.
West Virginia has officially legalized online casinos and poker in the state, as Gov. Jim Justice let the bill lapse into law without intervening.
West Virginia is one step away from becoming an online gambling state. If Michigan follows suit, the US could see renewed interest in legal online...
1931 – Race wagering legalized.
1980 – Bingo legalized.
1984 – State lottery launched.
1994 – Slots legalized as “video lotteries” at racetracks.
2001 – Video lotteries legalized in bars.
2007 – Land-based casino gambling legalized.
March 2009 – New Jersey files lawsuit to challenge the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).
May 2009 – Jim Justice purchases The Greenbrier via his company Justice Family Group.
November 2016 – West Virginia and four other states join New Jersey in its Supreme Court appeal. Jim Justice elected West Virginia Governor.
January 2017 – Jim Justice takes office.
March 2017 – First West Virginia sports betting and online gambling bills introduced by Delegate Shawn Fluharty.
June 2017 – The Supreme Court agrees to hear New Jersey’s PASPA case.
September 2017 – West Virginia commissions $160,000 study on potential impact of legalized sports betting.
January 2018 – Fluharty reintroduces his sports betting and online gambling bills for second year. Two others follow in the Senate, the second of them backed by the state lottery.
February 2018 – The lottery-backed bill S 415 quickly passes both Senate and House. The NBA and MLB lobby for a set of demands including the payment of “integrity fees.” Governor Jim Justice briefly attempts to support the leagues, only to be forced to back down due to his own stake in the situation via his ownership of The Greenbrier.
March 2018 – The sports betting bill becomes law without Gov. Justice’s signature, due to the veto time limit elapsing.
August 2018 – Hollywood Casino accepts the state’s first legal retail sports bet, in partnership with William Hill.
December 2018 – Delaware North, owner of Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island casinos, launches BetLucky, the state’s first online sports betting app.
January 2019 – A third online gambling bill, HB 2178, is introduced in the House.
February 2019 – HB 2178 is merged with a larger gambling bill, HB 2934, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act.
March 2019 – BetLucky taken offline by the activation of kill switches by back-end code developer EnterG. HB 2934 passes the House and Senate, and is allowed to become law without action by Gov. Justice.
August 2019 – Online sports betting returns to West Virginia as DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks go live.
December 2019 – West Virginia Lottery begins work on “emergency” online gambling regulations, which it must enact by July 1, 2020.
January 2020 – BetMGM sportsbook soft launches.