In a surprise turn, shortly following West Virginia’s embracing of retail and online sports betting, the Mountain State quickly passed online gambling legislation. This makes West Virginia the fifth state to legalize online casinos and poker rooms.
Governor Jim Justice is an owner of a brick-and-mortar casino in the state and was reluctant to weigh in on the issue. Instead, he declined to either sign or veto the legislature’s bill, which allowed it to become law by default on March 27, 2019.
West Virginia is now expected to begin launching gaming sites sometime next year. This page features all the information you need to know to prepare for the forthcoming rollout.
When will WV go live with online casinos?
No exact timetable has been given for online gaming to begin, but we can make educated guesses.
After legalizing online sports betting in 2018, West Virginia was fairly quick to get its first wagering site, BetLucky, up-and-running. However, issues between Delaware North (operator of both Wheeling Island and Madri Gras casinos) and platform provider Miomni Gaming, ultimately resulted in the site shutting down in March 2019. It will not be making a reappearance.
Combining this with the fact that online casinos and poker seem to be a somewhat lower priority right now than sportsbooks, and how slow launching has been in other states like Pennsylvania, it appears very unrealistic that any sites will be available in 2019 (or at least not until the very end). There’s also potential holdups stemming from a recent interpretation of the Wire Act by the DOJ, which is being challenged in the courts, and will at least compel regulators to tread carefully.
At the same time, the state has made speculative projections for revenues in 2021 that imply it expects a full year of operation. All of this makes it probable that sites should launch sometime in 2020.
Taxes, fees, and regulations
What gaming options are now legal?
Under the terms of the new law, licensed operators will be allowed to offer online slot machines, table games, and poker.
All activity will require security software confirming that players are physically within state borders. West Virginia should be able to negotiate entry into the interstate liquidity compact that would allow poker fans to play against opponents in other U.S. markets, but this may not be available at launch.
Who is eligible to conduct iGaming?
All of the current brick-and-mortar casino operators will be allowed to pursue licenses if they so choose. These are:
- The Casino Club at The Greenbrier – Greenbrier, West Virginia
- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races – Charles Town, West Virginia
- Mardi Gras Casino and Resort – Nitro, West Virginia
- Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort – Chester, West Virginia
- Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack – Wheeling, West Virginia
All of these locations are “racinos” with the exception of The Greenbrier, which counts as a private club for guests of the attached hotel.
Who will regulate the industry?
Online casino and poker sites will be regulated under the authority of the West Virginia Lottery.
What are the taxes and licensing fees?
The tax rate has been set at a very reasonable 15%, far less than some other states have pursued but still more than the 10% tax on West Virginia’s online sports betting.
Licensing will require an application fee of $250,000, with an additional $100,000 to renew every five years. There will also be a $100,000 service provider fee.
How many skins?
The law has not solidly set a limit on how many individual sites will be allowed on each license; instead this will be determined in the final regulations. However, it is possible to speculate based on the available information. There are two obvious paths for the Lottery to consider.
West Virginia can either emulate the strategy of Pennsylvania and allow any number of online casino skins while only limiting online sportsbooks, or it can follow the same decision it chose for its own sports betting sites and allow up to three different skins and apps on each license (and require the land-based casinos branding be prominent.)
Given the small population of the market, the latter seems most reasonable, but the state will surely have a lot of information to consider before it decides.
Which West Virginia casinos are eligible for online gambling?
The Casino Club at The Greenbrier
- The Greenbrier is a resort property in Greenbrier County. After incurring debt for years the property was acquired out of bankruptcy by Jim Justice, the current governor of the state. Unlike the other land-based casinos in West Virginia which began as racetracks, The Greenbrier is simply a hotel that offers table games, slots, and poker to its guests (for a very loose definition of guest).
- The Greenbrier has a physical sportsbook provided by FanDuel. No online site is live yet, but FanDuel WV is expected to launch shortly.
- As FanDuel hasn’t really dabbled yet in casino gambling, another partner may be necessary. Alternatively, FanDuel could use the West Virginia market as a fertile testing ground for a new online casino.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
- Hollywood Casino is a Penn National property in Charles Town, in the far eastern tip of the state near Washington DC. This thoroughbred racetrack and casino offers slots, poker, and table games.
- Hollywood Casino was the first brick-and-mortar casino in West Virginia to open a physical sportsbook thanks to partner William Hill. There is no website running yet, but Penn National has indicated it may be working with DraftKings to provide its online operation.
- Online casino plans are still vague, but the partner will probably be whoever they also go with for the Pennsylvania Hollywood Casino site. If regulations allow multiple skins then DraftKings may also offer casino games, since despite not being a highly established operator in that area the New Jersey DraftKings casino has been reporting impressive revenues.
Mardi Gras Casino and Resort
- Mardi Gras is near the border of Ohio, and just outside the state capital Charleston. The resort is a greyhound racino and 150-room hotel, and offers slots, table games, and poker.
- For a short while, Mardi Gras featured both a physical sportsbook and the state’s only online sports betting site, betlucky.com, which it shared with sister property Wheeling Island. Unfortunately, both are currently temporarily shut down.
- Parent company Delaware North is looking for a new sports betting partner to replace Mionmi, whom they are currently suing.
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort
- Originally Waterford Downs, the Mountaineer Park thoroughbred racetrack became the nation’s first racino in 1994 when it added slot machines. The resort in the far north of the state now boasts over 3,000 slots, poker and table games (added in 2007) and is the host of the West Virginia Derby.
- Mountaineer has a physical sportsbook run by partner William Hill. No online site has yet launched, but if William Hill provides it then it shouldn’t be long as the operator already has a US site live in New Jersey.
- It is unlikely that William Hill would be involved in Mountaineer’s online casino, and there are other more promising prospects. PokerStars is said to be providing the online poker room.
Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack
- Formerly Wheeling Downs, this 151-room hotel features a tropical theme, greyhound racing, off-track betting, and a full casino. The facility is on an island in the Ohio River, in the northern tip of the state.
- Wheeling Island had both a physical sportsbook as well as an online site at Betlucky.com. Unfortunately, neither are currently operational.
- As with the other Delaware North property Mardi Gras, with whom it shares BetLucky, Wheeling Island is currently without a partner and must find a new one to get its sportsbook up-and-running again.
The road toward legalizing WV online casinos
West Virginia was seen as an unlikely prospect for online gambling legalization even as recently as earlier in 2019. Changing leadership of the Lottery agency forestalled any progress the previous year, and in February 2019 talks among legislators seemed to be put on hold until after online sports betting progressed.
Progress suddenly rushed forward in March, due in no small part to concerted efforts by delegate Shawn Fluharty who has repeatedly introduced online gaming legislation in previous sessions and was instrumental in passing sports betting in 2018.
While West Virginia will be the second smallest market in the U.S. (beating only tiny Delaware) significant online potential now rests in the hands of five casino operators.