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West Virginia Gambling Laws

West Virginia

Up until recently, West Virginia gambling laws were similar to many other state gambling laws – stuck in the 1950s. However, in the past few years there has been enough legislative activity to suggest the gambling laws in West Virginia could catch up with more forward-thinking states – although we believe there is some way to go before the Mountain State regulates online poker.

Can Players From West Virginia Play Poker Online?

Although most US real money poker sites accept players from West Virginia as customers, I suggest seeking legal advice before creating and funding an online poker account. There are a lot of vagaries and anomalies in the state´s Code that confuse the issue and I am no lawyer.

I do know however that the only gambling-related law enforcement action taken in recent years relates to the possession of unlicensed gambling equipment. At the time of compiling this article, nobody in West Virginia has ever been prosecuted for playing online poker.

Is it Legal to Play Online Poker in West Virginia?

As mentioned above, there are a lot of vagaries and anomalies in the state´s Code that could be interpreted as making online poker both legal and illegal. The situation was further confused in 2016 when then Attorney General Patrick Morrisey gave the opinion state law prohibits only betting upon games decided predominantly by chance [1].

The AG´s opinion allowed Daily Fantasy Sports to continue unregulated in West Virginia, and it could be argued that online poker involves a lot more skill than Daily Fantasy Sports. Therefore, although it may be illegal to operate an unlicensed skill-based game in West Virginia, it remains a grey area whether participating in the game is also illegal.

Part of the problem is that West Virginia gambling laws were originally written to control mob activity at the turn of the twentieth century. Most still exist under Chapter 61, Article 10 of the state Code [2], which is why you will still find it a crime to:

  • Keep any game played with dice – presumably games such as Snakes & Ladders, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are illegal in West Virginia.
  • Play card games at home for “anything of value”. So, if it is raining in Charleston, it is illegal to cut the cards to determine who gets wet walking the dog.
  • Gamble in the outhouse of a hotel. In my experience, hotels with “outhouses” are ones without any indoor lavatories.

West Virginia Gambling History

West Virginia has had plenty of gambling activity over the years. Most of the gambling was illegal in the early days, but it was a big business in the state. The mob had several illegal gambling organizations running. It took many years for lawmakers to rid the state of the illegal gambling and the mob, but finally in the early 1900s they cracked down on the illegal gambling and got most of it under control.

The state made almost all gambling illegal within the state. Residents that liked to gamble were forced to leave the state for almost any gambling activity because even home games were considered illegal. Finally in 1984 voters passed an amendment to approve the state lottery. The first tickets were sold in 1986.

Since then the lottery has expanded from selling lottery tickets and scratch cards to operating video lottery terminals across the state and – since 2007 – table games at the state´s four licensed racetracks and one casino club. The racinos also host live horseracing and greyhound racing events and a pari-mutuel betting service for nationwide horseracing simulcasts.

Recent Developments in West Virginia Gambling Laws

In 2017, an “Act to Authorize Interactive Gaming” [3] was introduced into the legislature will the objective of regulating online poker but leaving the door open for other interactive casino games to be regulated as well. The Bill passed the Committee on the Judiciary, but was never considered by the House Finance Committee.

By comparison, the “West Virginia Sports Wagering Act” [4] passed within six weeks of being introduced into the legislature in April 2018 – several weeks before the Supreme Court gave its verdict in Murphy vs. National Collegiate Athletic Association that repealed federal anti-sports betting PASPA legislation. Significantly, the language of the Bill allows for bets to be placed from mobile devices.

Will West Virginia Legalize Online Poker in the Future?

Despite the apparent lack of interest in the “2017 Act to Authorize Interactive Gambling”, it is likely West Virginia will regulate online poker in the future – only not in the near future. I feel the state want to see the impact regulated sports betting has before legislating for a further expansion of gambling. There does not appear to be any heavy lifting being done towards regulation, so the likely outcome is that it will be added as an afterthought a few years down the road.

References:

  1. Jump up ^ AG Patrick Morrisey´s “Predominantly by Chance” Opinion (PDF)
  2. Jump up ^ Chapter 61, Article 10 of West Virginia State Code
  3. Jump up ^ HB 3067 “Act to Authorize Interactive Gaming” (PDF)
  4. Jump up ^ SB 415 “West Virginia Sports Wagering Act” (PDF)
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