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Jonathan ZaunJanuary 19, 2018
February 08, 2018

West Virginia Reintroduces iGaming Bill Hoping to Keep Pace with Pennsylvania

Less than a year after facing swift rejection, five state legislators in West Virginia have reintroduced a bill to legalize and regulate online poker and casino games.

House Bill 3067 was originally introduced by chief sponsor Delegate Shawn Fluharty – a Democrat representing the state’s 3rd District – in March of 2017. Within two weeks, however, the House of Delegate’s Republican leadership declared HB-3067 to be dead on arrival.

In the interim, Pennsylvania successfully passed its own online gambling bill into law last October. With West Virginia’s neighbor to the north becoming the fourth state to regulate the iGaming industry – joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware – Fluharty and four of his fellow Democratic delegates are asking colleagues to take a second look.

In October, on the same day that Pennsylvania put the finishing touches on iGaming regulation, Fluharty offered a succinct argument for doing the same in West Virginia. Posting to his Twitter feed, Fluharty made it clear that competing with Pennsylvania’s soon to be launched iGaming industry is in West Virginia’s economic interest:

“With PA passing sports betting, online poker and daily fantasy legislation today, WV must act this session or be left in the dust.”

If passed, HB-3067 would allow West Virginia’s five licensed brick and mortar casinos, along with licensed horseracing tracks, to operate iGaming platforms. Online poker and casino gaming would be regulated by the West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC), which already oversees land-based gambling in the state.

Respectively, the first three sections of HB-3067 declare iGaming to be compliant with the state Constitution, document the financial benefits accrued through previous land-based gambling expansions, and posit that iGaming would generate similar benefits:

“The Legislature finds and declares that interactive gaming permitted by this article constitutes the operation of lotteries within the purview of section thirty-six, article VI of the Constitution of West Virginia;

Legalization of video lottery and table games in West Virginia has delivered substantial benefits to the state, including the creation of thousands of significant contributions to racing and agricultural industries;

(And) developments in technology and recent legal decisions have created an opportunity to legalize interactive poker as a means to further enhance and complement the benefits delivered by casino gaming.”

As currently constructed, HB-3067 sets a price of $50,000 for interactive gaming licenses. Gross gaming revenue for both poker and casino (table games and slots) would be taxed at a flat rate of 14 percent. Those figures remain intact from the previous version of the bill.

By comparison, casinos in Pennsylvania must pay $10 million for a comprehensive iGaming license covering slots, table games, and poker. The tax rate on gross gaming revenue jumps from 16 percent on poker and table games to 54 percent on slots.

Fluharty reintroduced the iGaming bill earlier in the legislative session this time around, after raising the issue on March 15 last year. That left just three weeks until the previous session expired, forcing lawmakers to shelve the plan while focusing on bipartisan priorities.

Even so, Danielle Boyd – who serves as managing general counsel for the WVLC – issued a statement urging lawmakers to consider iGaming regulation as a priority:

“We recognize the future of gaming includes utilizing the internet as an alternate sales channel, and look forward to participating in the legislative process by engaging in ongoing dialogue relating to HB-3067 and recommending legislation to create a successful and secure model to bring West Virginia online in the near future.”

An introduction date of January 10 – the first day of the current session – provides the House with exactly two months to make more progress, with the session concluding on March 10.

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