West Virginia is just a single signature away from becoming the next state to legalize online gambling. Governor Jim Justice is widely expected to sign off on West Virginia iGaming House Bill 2934, also known as the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, before the March 24 deadline.
But even if he declines to sign the bill, absent a veto by Justice, HB-2934 will automatically become law anyway. That caveat came into play last year, when Justice elected not to sign the bill which legalized sports betting throughout the Mountaineer State.
Assuming no veto is handed down, West Virginia will join Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania as the fifth state to regulate the iGaming industry.
HN-2934 was introduced by state delegate Jason Barrett (D-61) on February 8, and exactly two weeks later, the House of Delegates passed it by an overwhelming 72 to 22 margin.
Last Friday, after adding minor amendments, the Senate provided a similarly comfortable margin of victory via a 26 to 7 vote. Because amendments were tacked on by the Senate, HB-2934 then returned to the House for final approval, with the margin of passage growing slightly to 78 to 18.
The final House vote occurred on March 9, the last day of West Virginia’s legislative session, giving Justice a 15-day window with which to either sign the bill, veto it, or simply allow it to become law by default.
The idea of legalized West Virginia iGaming – which consists of online poker and casino games in the case of HB-2934 – was first floated in January by state delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-3). As the chief sponsor of a series of iGaming bills floated in years past, Fluharty submitted his House Bill 2178 for consideration, before pivoting to support Barrett’s bill.
All told, a bipartisan coalition of 11 lawmakers came together as co-sponsors of HB-2934.
In an interview with the West Virginia Metro News radio network, Barrett proudly noted that iGaming had achieved nearly 80 percent approval within both legislative chambers:
“I’m not surprised that we got it passed.
I’m surprised that it sailed through as easily as it did.”
If and when HB-2934 becomes law, the West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC) would be tasked with establishing a regulatory framework for legal iGaming in the state.
The same agency already oversees regulated sports betting, which went live on August 30 of last year via the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. The first online and mobile sportsbook in the state, BetLucky.com, went live in December through both the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort and Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
Those venues unexpectedly shuttered BetLucky.com last week, however, due to a contract dispute involving third-party technology provider Miomni Gaming. Leading online sportsbook operators DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill are each expected to launch their products at some point this year.
As for online poker and casino gaming, the WVLC can award iGaming licenses to any of the state’s five brick and mortar casino establishments:
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort
The Casino Club at The Greenbrier
Mardi Gras Casino & Resort
Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack
The WVLC has until June of 2020 to finalize its iGaming regulations and licensing procedures, a window Barrett told the Metro News was designed to make his bill as palatable as possible for all involved:
“I wanted to make sure that it was something they were agreeable to and comfortable with so, for that reason, I don’t anticipate a veto (from Governor Justice).
We kind of brought everybody to the table to make sure operators were on board, to make sure the Lottery was on board and that we could get the votes in the Legislature as well.”
Venues must pay $250,000 to obtain an iGaming license, which can be renewed every five years for an additional $100,000 fee. Licenses awarded to software platform providers and other backend service management firms will come at a cost of $100,000, while supplier licenses will require a $10,000 fee.
Gross gaming revenue derived from iGaming wagers will be taxed at a rate of 15 percent, slightly higher than the 13 percent rate levied in New Jersey, but much lower than Pennsylvania’s online slot tax of 54 percent.