READY OR NOT: West Virginia Looks at Early Entrance into Online Gaming Market

May 6, 2020
READY OR NOT: West Virginia Looks at Early Entrance into Online Gaming Market

After West Virginia’s approval of online gaming last year, iGaming and poker weren’t expected to go live until 2020. That appears to be changing as the WV Lottery Commission announced emergency rules this week that could mean going live possibly by July.

Whether that includes any type of poker in the small populous state remains to be seen. But the news offers some hope online poker for real money could be in the Mountain State’s not-too-distant future.

So far, only New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Delaware offer legalized online poker or gaming. Michigan also legalized online gaming in late 2019.

The federal government’s reinterpretation of the Wire Act has hampered intentions for interstate compacts until there is a legal solution. But the move by WV regulators should come as good news for the state’s poker players.

A look at the emergency rules for WV online gaming

Under the proposal, the WV lottery would have the authority to enact emergency rules and authorize online gaming for a period of 15 months. The state legislature would then need to permanently approve rules for the industry.

The iGaming proposal comes after all five casinos in the state have been closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. With so many players at home and online gaming seeing record numbers, the proposal offers a chance to kickstart online casinos in WV.

The emergency rules would allow for live-dealer games in West Virginia. Specific rules for poker include:

  • Must offer players an option of random seating
  • Hand histories available for at least the last five hands
  • Barring the use of computerized house players
  • Sites can pay players to play for promotional purposes

Will these rules result in WV seeing online poker in 2020? That’s an open question but state regulators seem to be moving in the right direction.

Could West Virginia online poker go live soon?

Like New Jersey, the law in West Virginia not only allows for online poker but also online casino games. With a population of only 1.8 million, the state obviously has a small player pool.

An interstate compact would be necessary to create thriving player and prize pools. It may be too early to tell, but multiple operators launching right away seems unlikely.

However, two online platforms could be possibilities. PokerStars is owned by Flutter, which also owns FanDuel. The sportsbook and daily fantasy operator partners with Greenbrier in WV.

PokerStars hasn’t been hesitant of operating in states with fenced-in markets. The company currently operates online poker in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The WV market may be small, but moving into the states would link three states geographically for PokerStars. That might allow Stars to offer a fairly easy transition to shared liquidity if the gaming industry prevails in the Wire Act case.

Another option might be partypoker. BetMGM operates as a party skin in NJ through MGM’s Borgata property.

BetMGM also offers sports betting in West Virginia. Adding online poker could offer a seamless gaming experience for sports betting, poker, and possibly online gaming.

The Wire Act remains an issue in WV

Despite all this WV online gaming news, the Wire Act issue  remains a major obstacle. As a rural state with only 1.8 million people, creating a legitimate fenced-in market would be challenging.

State legislators and gaming experts believe interstate compacts will ultimately be allowed. That includes State Del. Shawn Fluharty, who helped lead the WV iGaming charge.

“I don’t think it’s going to change anything,” Fluharty told after the state’s initial online gaming legislation became law. “Just like we saw PASPA sitting there forever, and how that law was plainly unconstitutional and had not been properly challenged.”

The Department of Justice released its reinterpretation of the Wire Act in January 2019. The new opinion argued that the act applies to more than just sports betting. 

The issue has been in court ever since with the New Hampshire lottery suing and winning the first round. That has now shifted to federal appeals court and many in the gaming industry, including WV, are anxiously awaiting the results.

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