Just three weeks into 2019, West Virginia´s legislators have decided to scrap proposals to regulate online poker and online casino games in the Mountain State.
For the third year running, proposals to regulate online poker and online casino games in West Virginia will be left to gather dust. The news is not that surprising considering previous attempts to introduce legislation have failed to make it past the committee stage, although the speed at which the proposals have been scrapped raised a few eyebrows – HB 2178 having been introduced less than two weeks ago.
The decision was made at a hearing of the House Finance Committee, in which the state’s lottery director John Myers expressed support for an expansion of Keno games and Video Lottery Terminals, but not for any expansion of online gambling. As – under HB 2178 – the Lottery Commission would be responsible for issuing online gambling licenses and regulating online gambling in West Virginia, Myers opinions are significant and, without his support, the proposals will be going nowhere this year.
The Reason for Myers´ Reluctance to Expand Online Gambling
West Virginia was one of the first states to regulate sports betting last year following the repeal of PASPA. Licenses were issued to the state´s five brick-and-mortar casinos, who are also eligible to operate a mobile sports betting service via partnerships with existing online service providers (i.e. William Hill). The regulation of sports betting is overseen by the West Virginia Lottery Commission.
However, the rollout of the mobile sport betting service has been slow. Only two of the licensed casinos have launched their mobile platforms, and Myers – who only became director of the Lottery Commission late last year – has his hands full trying to get the other three platforms off the ground. As this year´s legislative session ends in March, the regulation of online gambling on top of the existing issues would likely be too much, too soon for the Lottery Commission.
Decision Has Nothing to Do with Revised Wire Act Opinion
Since the news broke about online gambling in West Virginia being scrapped for another year, there has been speculation Myers´ reluctance to move ahead with regulation is due to the DOJ´s revised Wire Act opinion that could potentially stop all regulated online gambling in the U.S. That would appear not to be the case as Myers indicated at the hearing he would be willing to reconsider the issue at a later date.
Possibly of more concern to the Commission´s director is a report released last year that showed West Virginia to be the joint third state most reliant on gambling taxes for state revenues. There are also concerns that a high percentage of the state´s population are at risk from problem gambling – with 6.5% of West Virginians classified as at risk gamblers and a further 2.5% of the population showing signs of gambling addiction according to the Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia.
The Potential Future for Regulated Online Gambling in West Virginia
The future for regulated online gambling in West Virginia is uncertain. Factors such as the Wire Act opinion and a desire to reduce the reliance on “sin taxes” may result in regulation being delayed for more than one year. Furthermore, if mobile sports betting takes off in the manner it has in other regulated states, issues related to problem gambling may require consideration before a further expansion of gambling is approved.
The likelihood is that proposals will be introduced again next year to ensure regulated online gambling remains in the conversation, but whether or not legislators will act on the proposals is a matter of speculation. My personal feeling is that it could take several more years until online poker is regulated in West Virginia; and even them it may only be on an intrastate basis depending on how the reinterpreted Wire Act is enforced.