West Virginia state Delegate Shawn Fluharty formally introduced HB3067, which would amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931 to legalize “interactive gaming.” Under the bill, online poker, casino betting and lottery betting would be allowed and regulated by the state Lottery Commission. Co-sponsors are state Delegates Mick Bates, Sean Hornbuckle, Joseph Canestraro and Mike Pushkin. The bill was rejected by the House in 2017 but now is under review by a House legislative committee.
Fluharty said, “With Pennsylvania passing sports betting, online poker and daily fantasy legislation today, West Virginia must act this session or be left in the dust.” In addition, a report from the American Gaming Association noted, “Over the past decade, West Virginia’s casino industry has seen an explosion of competition from surrounding states. In 2006, none of its neighbors had casinos.”
From January to October 2017, West Virginia’s five casinos won $500 million from gamblers, a decrease of 7 percent from the same period in 2016. Casinos won $638.5 million in 2016, a decline of 2.6 percent from 2015. A decade ago, gaming revenue was nearly $1 billion annually.
The expansion of Maryland’s gambling market has had a significant impact on West Virginia’s casino industry. Currently about 30 casinos operate in three of the five states that border West Virginia. The state’s largest casino, Hollywood Casinos at Charles Town Races, directly competes with MGM National Harbor in Maryland near Washington, D.C.
Fluharty’s bill is designed to attract online operators to West Virginia with lower licensing fees. Pennsylvania charges existing casinos $10 million for an online gaming license that permits them to offer poker, casino games and slots, whereas West Virginia’s license fee would be $50,000 with a tax rate of 14 percent on gross profits.
The bill puts an emphasis on consumer protection. It states, “It is a vital public interest that licensed entities retain responsibility for the interactive gaming software and hardware which shall remain under their ultimate operational and supervisory control of the state. To ensure that actual control and supervision remains with the licensed entity, the licensed entity’s publicly accessible internet website or similar public portal shall be marketed and made available to the public under the licensed entity’s own name and brands and not the brands of third parties.”
New York and Michigan also are considering bills to legalize online poker.