888: Online Poker in West Virginia a "Matter of When, Not If" 888: Online Poker in West Virginia a "Matter of When, Not If"

It’s not just a crystal ball, I’m trying to create reality! 888poker’s footprint in the US market is set to get a lot bigger. In an upcoming exclusive interview with Poker Industry PRO, 888 Holdings’ Senior Vice President and Head of US Yaniv Sherman laid out some of the future plans for the company in the US market.

In particular, the small state of West Virginia, which regulated online poker two years ago but has so far failed to attract a single licensed WV online poker operator, is very much in 888’s future, with Sherman saying “we’ll launch there at some point in time.”

Pokerfuse has already previewed their plans to launch its platform in PA and MI. Most interestingly, Sherman confirmed that these expansion plans are still a go regardless of the status of shared liquidity in those markets—a change from their position in discussions earlier this year.

However, Sherman went a further than just those two early targets. When asked to look into his crystal ball at the future of 888poker in the US after PA and MI, Sherman looked a little further ahead and farther afield.

Online Poker in West Virginia in the Future

“It’s not just a crystal ball, I’m trying to create reality!” Sherman said when asked to speculate on what states might be following in the future. “I hope a lot of them.”

Sherman did mention one specific market—West Virginia—which will likely be a market entry for the operator in the future. He also pointed to Indiana and Illinois as “two states that seem to be a bit more likely” but added that any state which currently has sports is a strong candidate for future poker expansion.

When asked about a timeline for online poker in West Virginia, Sherman could not give a specific date.

“The short answer is, I don’t know at this point. It’s a matter of when, rather than if. I think of West Virginia, they’re out there, we start rolling out 888poker, we’ll launch there at some point in time because it doesn’t make sense not to.”

West Virginia is an interesting case in the US market. It was the fifth US state to pass legislation making online poker legal, in April of 2019, meaning online poker has been legal there for more than two years.

In short, we believe poker is less contentious, less political. There isn’t really a cannibalization concern with poker. And yet, to date, no operators have taken the plunge into the WV market, despite seeing rivals like PokerStars and BetMGM push into the new Michigan and Pennsylvania markets shortly after legislation was passed. Sherman’s comments on WV mark the first real interest in the market from a major operator.

Most likely, the lack of interest is a result of the size of the market. While states like Michigan and Pennsylvania are big enough to sustain a stand-alone market, WV is significantly smaller, coming in at fewer than two million people in total.

That makes a state like West Virginia more likely as part of a multi-state network than as a stand-alone poker room. With 888poker’s existing multi-state network linking Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, the operator has always had an eye to shared liquidity across state lines.

The WV comments point to early expansion of that network beyond the existing US poker markets as soon as the Wire Act situation is fully resolved and the regulator signs the MSIGA.

Regulatory Education Required for Online Poker Expansion

Sherman focused on the difficulties they have to overcome before such expansions can go forward. Specifically, he highlighted the regulatory and educational hurdles they need to overcome before those markets are ready for entry.

“What we are trying to do [...] is to educate policymakers of the differences between poker and casino,” he added. “We’re trying to decouple the two. In short, we believe poker is less contentious, less political. There isn’t really a cannibalization concern with poker.”

When asked to expand on what 888 is doing to educate legislators, he added: “Poker is more complicated than casino and sports betting. That’s the main challenge, to explain and demonstrate.”

“It used to be the case where we had to do that over PowerPoint. Right now, we can just show the regulators,” he said, highlighting how the existing combined network of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, which make up the shared liquidity pool for 888poker and its partner WSOP, help to demonstrate the path forward.

“Some of the most effective ambassadors have actually been our partners in the different states of the regulators,” he added.

Sherman also pointed to collaboration with other industry partners, something he admits the industry has been “less effective” at in past years. He touted the iDEA trade group as a way for industry partners to put on a unified front for education and advocacy, but he admitted, “we need to do a better job also as an industry in getting that message across.”

The full interview with Yaniv Sherman will be published on Monday on Poker Industry PRO.