In this series, we’ll look at six states considered most likely to offer legal and regulated online poker over the next year. For the first installment, we’re focusing on West Virginia, a state that could see its first online poker operators go live in 2023. This article first appeared on US Gaming Review, and has been reposted on pokerfuse.
Real money online poker in the US is currently legal and operational in five US states: Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Which state will be sixth?
A handful of states are frequently mentioned as contenders to be the next multi-state poker site. Membership Multi-State Internet Gambling Agreement (MSIGA) – an interstate online poker pact that today includes all of the states mentioned above, minus Pennsylvania – is considered an absolute must for getting the vertical off the ground in a new jurisdiction.
Online poker is already legal in West Virginia, and its regulator has said so twice, including in an exclusive interview last month with Poker Industry PRO — that he can’t wait to join MSIGA. It seems incredibly likely that the sixth state in online poker will ultimately be West Virginia.
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The pandemic helped usher in a new era
Online casino games (and, by extension, online poker) became legal in West Virginia after the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act was passed in March 2019.
When the pandemic hit a year later and the state’s five land-based casinos were forced to close, the West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC) was forced to enact a series of emergency rules to facilitate the launch of online casinos in April 2020. The rules, which came into effect in May 2020, allowed casinos to operate up to three skins each for online casino games and sports betting.
The West Virginia Legislature codified the emergency rules into law in April 2021.
Population: a factor that slows down WV
If one of our operators came to us and told us that they wanted to offer multi-state poker, I’m sure we [would consider it]. We are monitoring the situation. Although it is legal to play online poker in West Virginia and there are no apparent barriers to sharing cash with other US jurisdictions, none of the nine operators currently active in the state online poker offer.
The reason for this is likely that the state ranks 40th in terms of population – it only has around 1.8 million people. Operators may be reluctant to roll out online poker until state joins MSIGA or another similar multi-state gaming compact, opening up the WV online poker rooms to a much larger pool of players.
But West Virginia’s membership in MSIGA is probably not the only factor. If it was and the WVLC shared that impression, the regulator would likely have encouraged Gov. Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to take action.
Other factors are likely at play in West Virginia and other states. Online poker won’t be a huge money maker in terms of tax revenue, and operators have prioritized sports betting launches – fully aware that sports betting is the best tool to open up states to casino games legal online. Online casino games are a real source of revenue for state governments and operators.
West Virginia wants to join MSIGA
Yet the WVLC made it clear that he wanted to join MSIGA.
:In July 2021, the regulator declared fuse poker he was “studying the possibility of joining” a multi-state pact like the MSIGA. This week a WVLC official says Poker Industry PRO in an exclusive he was “definitely interested” in joining MSIGA and would take steps to do so if one of its in-state operators made such a request.
“If one of our operators came to us and said they wanted to offer multi-state poker, I’m sure we would [would consider it]said Deputy Director of Security David Bradley. “We are monitoring the situation.”
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Potential Online Poker Operators at WV
|Operator||Likely to launch Poker?||Land based casino partner|
|Bet Rivers||Maybe||Mountaineer Casino|
(1) = While PokerStars is not a licensed operator at WV, FanDuel is licensed. Flutter owns both brands. PokerStars, or another Flutter brand, could potentially become a licensed operator and launch online poker.
Determine which of West Virginia’s nine operators would ask the state to join MSIGA is a curious exercise, but two stand out – BetMGM and Caesars.
BetMGM is one of three operators (the others are FanDuel and Golden Nugget) on the private Greenbrier Resort license. The operator could wait for Michigan to become a participating member of MSIGA and authorizes its operators to offer multi-state poker. At this point, BetMGM could connect its Michigan and New Jersey player pools to West Virginia once it joins the compact.
Meanwhile, through WSOPCaesars could presumably do the same with its player pools in Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and New Jersey. WSOP NV is the only online poker operator in Nevada. The American network WSOP/888 has a monopoly on online poker in Delaware thanks to three racinos in the state that run poker skins powered by 888.
Caesars is one of two licensed Mountaineer Casino operators. BetRivers may also pressure West Virginia to join MSIGA once he brought a long-talked-about poker platform to market.
PokerStars is another possibility. Although PokerStars is not a licensed operator in the state, another Flutter brand, FanDuel, is. It’s unclear if PokerStars could share access to FanDuel via Greenbrier in a separate vertical or if it should launch under another terrestrial ownership.
The three main gambling facilities in the state are Greenbrier, Mountaineer and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Hollywood partners with Barstool, DraftKings and PointsBet, none of which offer online poker.
A ninth operator, Betly, runs online sports betting at Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island casinos in West Virginia.