A proposal for the legalization of online casino gaming sailed through the West Virginia Legislature in the spring of 2019 with a speed beyond what gambling-related bills are normally handled with.
However, the state Lottery waited for over a year to introduce some interim rules paving the way for the launch of legal online casinos and poker websites within West Virginia limits.
Based on the relative lack of activity on the online gambling issue for over a year, many assumed that the state’s first online casinos would go live in late 2020 or early 2021. It now appears that the wait might not be that long and casino and poker websites could be launched this summer.
WV Lottery Approves Emergency Rules
Late in April, the WV Lottery, the regulator tasked with overseeing the Mountain State’s gambling industry, approved a set of emergency rules for the launch of online casinos.
The agency had until July to introduce interim rules on how online casino and poker activities should be conducted in West Virginia. So even though many would have wished those rules to have been introduced much earlier, the Lottery still took action within the deadline.
The shutdown of casinos around the nation due to the coronavirus pandemic was what really prompted the regulator to finally act on the online gaming issue. States where online gambling has been legal for a while have seen a surge in online casino and poker traffic since the widespread closure of physical facilities.
Rules Need Approval from WV Secretary of State
The WV Lottery now needs to send the emergency regulations to the Secretary of State by mid-May. The Secretary will have 42 days to approve or reject the rules. This means that first online gambling operations could kick off at some point in July.
The emergency rules authorize the WV Lottery to issue interim licenses to interested companies. If an operator is granted a license, it can start online casino/poker activities almost immediately.
The interim licenses will be good for 270 days, during which time the Lottery will conduct a detailed review to determine whether operators should be issued full licenses.
The Lottery’s emergency rules will be valid for 15 months after and if approved by the Secretary of State. During these 15 months, the state Legislature will be expected to approve permanent rules authorizing the provision of online gambling services.
Who Will Be Able to Enter West Virginia’s Online Gambling Market?
Under the recently introduced emergency rules, each land-based casino operator in the state that obtains a master license from the WV Lottery will be able to partner with up to three online casino operators.
Operators will have to pay a $100,000 license fee. Software providers will, too, be required to obtain licenses in order for their products to be available in the state. Their licenses will cost $10,000.
West Virginia has previously legalized online sports betting. FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM are currently the three operators licensed to offer digital athletic gambling in the state. They will likely be among the first to seek online gaming licenses when this becomes possible.
PokerStars, which is now owned by Irish gambling giant Flutter Entertainment, is, too, believed to be interested in the highly anticipated opening of West Virginia’s market.