Online poker players in West Virginia who are hoping to play at regulated sites will need patience as it’ll likely be 2021 before platforms are up and running.
The West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act that allows online poker and gambling was passed earlier this year, but progress has thus far moved slowly and much more needs to be done before Mountain State residents can play poker, blackjack and slots online. The first hurdle was a 90-day waiting period written into the language of the act, keeping the law from taking effect.
Three months and then some have passed since Governor Jim Justice neither signed nor vetoed the bill following legislature approval, which permitted the bill to become law as a matter of default. Approval by lawmakers took a circuitous route prior to the governor’s inaction.
How It Happened
After a proposal (HB 2178) was introduced by West Virginia Delegate Shawn Fluharty in January 2019, he and Delegate Jason Barrett re-worded the bill as HB 2934 in February. The changes made included a higher license fee and a reduced tax rate.
More tweaks were made in committee before the House approved of the measure in a healthy 72-to-22 vote, sending it on to the Senate. Further changes were made in that chamber before a vote of 26-7 in favor, with HB 2934 returned to the House for reconsideration.
Under the radar bill (sort of): WV is now one of only a few states that will have #iGaming which I originally introduced a couple years ago. Let's play some poker and raise some revenue!
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) March 28, 2019
On March 9, another House vote was even more positive at 78-to-18, and the bill’s next destination was Gov. Justice. The governor and his family have ties to one of the state’s casinos, which may be the reason why he chose not to sign it into law and allowed the process to play out itself.
Where to Go from Here
The West Virginia Lottery now has the challenge of establishing rules and regulations for the state’s online poker and gambling regime. Indications are that the timetable for completion is sometime in the fall of 2020, pushed back a few months from the initial projection of next summer.
Lottery representatives have mentioned a desire to visit some of the states that have already launched i-poker and i-gaming platforms in order to snag a few pointers on how to do so correctly. Nevada has only online poker, Delaware is rather small, Pennsylvania has yet to launch online poker, so it appears that the best state to emulate is New Jersey.
Once the rules and regulations are in place, the application process will commence, followed by extensive vetting of the applicants. Licensees will be required to pay a fee of $250,000 good for five years, with the next five-year renewal set at $100,000. Gross gaming revenue will be taxed at 15%.
While the licensed operators may be in place in late 2020, it will take time to prepare and configure the new online poker and gambling sites. A good bet is sometime in 2021 that West Virginians will be able to enjoy fully functional i-poker and i-gaming.