In this series, we will look at six states considered the most likely to offer regulated, legal online poker within the next year. For the first installment, we focus on WV online poker — a state that could see its first online poker operators go live in 2023. This article was first published on US Gaming Review, and has been republished 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 venue for multi-state poker. Membership in the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) — an interstate online poker compact that today includes all the states mentioned above, minus Pennsylvania — is considered an absolute must to get the vertical off the ground in a new jurisdiction.
Online poker is already legal in West Virginia, and its regulator has stated on two occasions — including in an exclusive interview last month with Poker Industry PRO — that it is eager to join MSIGA. It seems incredibly likely that the sixth online poker state could ultimately be West Virginia.
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The Pandemic Helped Usher in New Era
Online casino gaming (and, by extension, online poker) became legal in West Virginia following the passage of the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act in March 2019.
When the pandemic hit one year later, and the state’s five land-based casinos were forced to close, the West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC) was compelled to enact a series of emergency rules to help facilitate the launch of online casinos in April 2020. The rules, which took effect in May 2020, permitted the casinos to operate up to three skins each for online casino gaming and sports betting.
The West Virginia Legislature codified the emergency rules into law in April 2021.
Population: One Factor Holding WV Back
If one of our operators came to us and said they wanted to offer multi-state poker, I’m sure we [would consider it]. We’re monitoring the situation. Despite it being legal to play online poker in West Virginia, and with no apparent obstacles to sharing liquidity with other US jurisdictions, none of the nine operators currently active in the state offer online poker.
The reason is likely because the state ranks 40th in population — it only has about 1.8 million residents. Operators could be reluctant to roll out online poker until the state joins MSIGA or another similar multi-state gaming compact, opening up WV online poker rooms to a much larger player pool.
But West Virginia’s membership in MSIGA is probably not the only factor. If it were and the WVLC shared that impression, the regulator would have likely encouraged Governor Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to spring into action.
Other factors are likely at play in West Virginia and other states. Online poker won’t be a massive moneymaker in terms of tax revenue, and operators have prioritized sports betting launches — fully aware that sports betting is the best tool for opening states to legal online casino gaming. Online casino gaming is the real moneymaker for both state governments and operators.
West Virginia Wants to Join MSIGA
Still, the WVLC has made it plain and clear that it wants to join MSIGA.
In July 2021, the regulator told pokerfuse it was “investigating the possibility of joining” a multi-state compact like MSIGA. This week, a WVLC official told Poker Industry PRO in an exclusive that it 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 consider it],” said Deputy Director for Security, David Bradley. “We’re monitoring the situation.”
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Potential Online Poker Operators in WV
|Operator||Likely to Launch Poker?||Land-Based Casino Partner|
(1) = While PokerStars is not a licensed operator in WV, FanDuel does have a license. Flutter owns both brands. PokerStars, or another Flutter brand, could potentially become a licensed operator and launch online poker.
Figuring out 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 license of the private Greenbrier Resort. The operator could be waiting until Michigan becomes a participating member of MSIGA and authorizes its operators to offer multi-state poker. At that point, BetMGM could connect its player pools in Michigan and New Jersey with West Virginia once it joins the compact.
Meanwhile, through WSOP, Caesars could presumably move to 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 WSOP/888 US Network has a monopoly on online poker in Delaware through three racinos in the state running poker skins powered by 888.
Caesars is one of two operators on the Mountaineer Casino license. BetRivers could also press West Virginia to join MSIGA once it brings a long-rumored 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 FanDuel’s access through Greenbrier in a separate vertical or if it would need to launch under another land-based property.
The three main gaming facilities in the state are Greenbrier, Mountaineer, and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Hollywood is partnered with Barstool, DraftKings, and PointsBet, none of which offer online poker.
A ninth operator, Betly, runs online sportsbooks at the Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island casinos in West Virginia.