Perhaps the new Wire Act opinion from the Department of Justice won’t slow down online gambling, after all. A bill was recently introduced in the West Virginia House of Delegates that would legalize and regulate online gambling in the state. The West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (H 2934) could end up permitting virtually any “computerized or virtual versions of any game of chance,” which would include things like poker and casino table games.
West Virginia already legalized sports betting almost a year ago and currently has an active sports betting industry. The same five venues that have sportsbooks would also be permitted to apply for online gaming licenses: Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, The Casino Club at The Greenbrier, Mountaineer Casino, Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, and Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
Interactive gaming licenses would cost $250,000 and would be good for five years, with renewals for the same five year duration running $100,000.
Interestingly, this isn’t even the first online gaming bill introduced this year in West Virginia. Last month, Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced an online poker bill, but like the last two years he did the same thing, the bill has not gained any traction. Fluharty is one of the co-sponsors of the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, so that may be an indication that he is about ready to throw in the towel on his poker bill and sees this one as the better route. It would, after all, legalize online poker in addition to other games.
Also listed as a co-sponsor is Delegate Dianna Graves, who actually sided against sports betting in the legislature. If I was pressed on the matter, I would say her inclusion is a good sign.
There is no “bad actor” clause in the bill, which has been a part of past bills in other states in order to keep companies who operated in the United States after the UIGEA passed in 2006 out of the market. Bad actor clauses are typically inserted in an effort to protect local stakeholders, as they are geared toward keeping PokerStars out of the game. The West Virginia bill does have a portion that bars “a company or individual who has been directly employed by any illegal or offshore book that serviced the United States, or otherwise accepted black market wagers from individuals located in the United States,” though.
Delegate Jason Barrett, the primary lawmaker behind the new bill, told Online Poker Report that he feels very good about the legislation’s chances:
We have made great steps thus far in providing greater flexibility for the gaming industry in West Virginia, and I am encouraged by the support we have received on this particular iGaming initiative thus far. Our House finance chairman has a real interest in taking up the legislation and I believe it has great potential to pass with bipartisan support both in the House and Senate.
The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.