With the lack of a veto from Gov. Jim Justice, West Virginia´s online gambling bill has passed into law; although it could still be subject to DOJ action.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about West Virginia´s online gambling bill – The West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (HB 2934) – being approved by the Senate. After the article was published, the bill briefly went back to the House to approve a few minor amendments, and was then sent to the desk of Governor Jim Justice for his signature.
Strictly speaking, the Governor´s signature was not necessarily for the bill to pass into law. Its passage was conditional on the Governor not vetoing the bill; and, although there is a precedent for Governor´s vetoing online gambling bills, Jim Justice´s inaction meant the bill became law on Wednesday and players should be able to play regulated poker online in West Virginia in a little over a year.
Bill Ignores DOJ Wire Act Reinterpretation
I wrote “should be able to play regulated poker online” because nobody yet knows what enforcement action the DOJ will take following its reinterpretation of the Wire Act. The bill itself was published after the DOJ had revised its opinion, and showed a middle finger to the DOJ by allowing the West Virginia Lottery Commission to enter into online poker compacts with other regulated states (§29-22E-14).
Two events could happen now that would affect the ability of players to play regulated poker online in West Virginia. First of all, the DOJ could go after operators offering any form of online poker, which would kill the bill dead. The second event is that the DOJ allows intrastate online poker, but prohibits interstate online poker – i.e. stops states forming online poker compacts with other regulated states.
This second event would kill the prospects for online poker in West Virginia as well because, with a population of less than two million (about a fifth of the population of New Jersey), a ring-fenced market would be unsustainable. No online poker operator is going to pay $250,000 for a license plus $100,000 per year to maintain it if there aren´t enough players on the site to make operating financially viable.
Did Nobody Notice the Bad Actor Clause?
One section of the bill that´s not been commented on is §29-22E-10 – “License Prohibitions”. This section applies to any company or individual that “accepted black market wagers from individuals in the United States”. There´s no “to” or “from” dates in this section, so assuming the time period is limitless, that could prevent PokerStars, 888Poker, and Party Poker from participating in the regulated market.
If strictly applied (I´m sure it won´t be) that wouldn´t leave any operators with experience of operating a major poker platform in the U.S. eligible for a license. The only other operator currently capable of running an online poker platform in West Virginia would be William Hill (which has partnered up with two of the state´s casinos to offer sports betting); but with no presence in any other regulated state – and therefore unable to create an interstate poker network – would William Hill bother?
A Few Concerns to Resolve over Time
So, with some uncertainty about whether or not – or how – the DOJ might enforce its reinterpretation of the Wire Act, and a strict reading of the bill prohibiting any operator who would likely be interested in provided an online poker service, there are a few concerns to resolve before regulated online poker in West Virginia becomes a reality.
As usual, I shall be monitoring the situation closely and will offer my opinion from time to time on how the situation might play out. For the present, there appears to be no reason why players in West Virginia should not continue playing at existing US poker sites for the rest of the year – at least.