West Virginia is generally regarded as a gambling-friendly state with plenty of gaming options for its residents. The state is home to five land-based casinos and racetracks, a lottery and even permits some forms of online betting. Poker sites and online casinos are still illegal at this time, but the state has no problem with online horse wagering, fantasy sports betting or games of skill.
For the most part, you won’t have a hard time finding a place to play poker, bet on the ponies or try your hand at fantasy sports anywhere in the state. The only main things missing at this point are online poker and casino-style games. Some lawmakers seem open to the idea but no major efforts have yet been made to bring those forms of wagering to the state.
Reputable West Virginia Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
One example of West Virginia’s friendly stance towards gambling is its support of New Jersey’s effort to legalize sports betting. In 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued an order that the authorities would no longer prosecute licensed racing or casino facilities if they choose to accept sports wagers. West Virginia was one of 4 states that formally issued their support of New Jersey in the court case.
Admittedly, the state’s support of New Jersey doesn’t have much to do with getting all forms of online gambling legalized in West Virginia, but it does show an important distinction between WV and other states. Many parts of the country are staunchly opposed to expanding any form of gambling. The simple fact that West Virginia supports legalization in another state says good things about the future of online betting in the Mountain State.
A better indicator of West Virginia’s attitude towards online gambling came from the state lottery director John Musgrave in 2014. He said that increasing competition from gambling options in other states has led to declining lottery revenues in West Virginia. The Charleston Daily Mail quoted Musgrave as saying the lottery commission was considering expanding into online gaming, studying it and figuring a way to implement it across the state.
In summary, the future for online poker and gambling looks bright in West Virginia. We don’t have any major legislative efforts to report but there appears to be at least some desire to consider the idea. West Virginia’s embrace of sports betting in New Jersey and its lottery director openly talking about online gaming are good indicators that West Virginia will move on the idea at some point.
Legal Forms of Online Betting in West Virginia
- Fantasy sports
- Horse racing betting
- Games of skill
- Sports betting (conditional on SCOTUS decision)
A few forms of online wagering are already legal in West Virginia. The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006 paved the way for legal online fantasy sports with a clause that declared fantasy leagues to be “contests of skill” and not subject to gaming laws. Only a few states have gaming laws that prohibit fantasy betting.
The federal Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and a subsequent 2000 amendment made it legal for horse racing websites to accept wagers on horse races no matter where those races are held. All the major horse betting sites in the US accept customers from WV today.
Finally, online skill games may be played for real money in most states because games of skill fall outside most state’s definitions of “gambling.” There’s only one major website dedicated to skill gaming and it doesn’t have a huge player base, but it’s worth a look if you’d like to test your skills against other people in games such as Bejeweled, Scrabble, Hearts, pool and so on.
In July of 2016, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an opinion clarifying the state’s opinion on fantasy sports in response to a request from Senate President Bill Cole. A statement published on the AG’s official website explains that West Virginia law requires real money games to be determined predominantly by chance for them to meet the state’s definition of gambling. Fantasy sports do not meet that definition as they are determined primarily by skill.
The relevant portion of the formal opinion reads as follows:
“We conclude that West Virginia does not prohibit the offering of or participation in fantasy spors games, as they are defined in Senate Bill 529. We read state law to prohibit only betting upon games decided at least predominantly by chance. Fantasy sports games, as defined in the Senate Bill, are not so decided. Rather, they are determined predominantly by skill, knowledge, and athletic performance. Because you have not asked, we do not specifically address whether particular fantasy sports games meet the Senate Bill’s definition. But we do note that fantasy sports games, as we have described them in the background discussion above, are likely not decided predominantly by chance.
“We further conclude that this Opinion is consistent with the decisions of most other state attorneys general regarding the legality of fantasy sports games. Those state attorneys general who have found their state laws to prohibit only betting upon games decided predominantly by chance, as we have determined about West Virginia law, have similarly found pay-to-play fantasy sports games to be lawful in their states. In contrast, in those states where fantasy sports games have been found unlawful, the state attorneys general have found state gambling laws to apply more broadly than in West Virginia, prohibiting betting in many more games than simply those where chance predominates.”
Sports Betting in West Virginia
In 2018, West Virginia passed into law a bill legalizing sports betting in the real world and online on the condition that the federal prohibition of sports betting comes to an end. The West Virginia Lottery now says casinos could be ready to go and begin taking wagers within 90 days of a Supreme Court decision.
At the time the bill became law, the Supreme Court of the United States was hearing Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. That case, which is also referred to as the New Jersey sports betting case, came about because New Jersey passed a law attempting to legalize sports betting within state borders. The NCAA and professional sports leagues sued to stop the New Jersey law from taking effect as it is a violation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that prohibits single game sports betting in all states except Nevada.
New Jersey appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court on the argument that PASPA violates the 10th Amendment, which limits the power the federal government has over the states. While that Supreme Court case was making its way through the process, a handful of states began looking at sports betting laws of their own.
West Virginia saw the potential of legal, licensed sports betting and moved quickly to adopt legislation that would permit sports wagers if the federal prohibition of sports betting is stricken down by the Supreme Court or is repealed via legislative means.
The West Virginia sports betting bill allows existing racetracks and casinos with gaming licenses to apply for a sports betting license at a cost of $100,000, renewable every five years along with a $100,000 renewal fee. Licensed operators are subject to a reasonable 10% sports betting tax. The minimum age for sports betting is 21.
Sports betting in West Virginia is regulated by the state Lottery Commission. The Commission oversees licensing, ensures compliance and audits all licensees at least once a year. The Commission is also authorized to enter into agreements with other states and jurisdictions to facilitate cross-border sports betting.
Licensed sports betting operators are required to be on the lookout for suspicious betting activity such as “non-normal irregularities in volume or odds swings” and pass reports of any suspicious activity on to the Lottery Commission for further investigation.
It is interesting to note that the bill specifically calls upon all licensed operators to assist with protecting the integrity of sports even as the NBA and MLB pushed for lawmakers to implement an “integrity fee” of 1% of sports betting handle payable to the sports leagues.
A 1% fee does not sound like much, but it works out to be the equivalent of a 20-25% tax on net revenue. We know from existing sportsbooks in Nevada that net profits usually work out to no more than 4-5% of total betting handle. For the leagues to ask for an extra 1% to be taken out of that just to ensure the integrity of their leagues strikes some as a bit of a stretch. West Virginia opted to skip the integrity fee and instead place the responsibility onto the operators (who can almost definitely detect suspicious behavior at a fraction of the cost).
The Effort to Legalize Online Gambling in West Virginia
In 2017, West Virginia officially joined the growing list of states considering legalization of online gambling. House Bill 3067 was introduced on March 14th of 2017 and called for legalizing “interactive gaming,” allowing existing gaming facilities to apply for licenses to offer real money gaming online and establishing taxes and fees for licensed providers.
The bill itself was fairly short as it only established a few basic regulations, but authorized the West Virginia Lottery Commission to set rules and regulations as necessary to administer online gambling in a safe and effective method. A few specifics that were mentioned in the bill included calling for a $50,000 licensing fee, setting a 14% tax rate, setting a minimum age of 21 for players and taking steps to ensure safety and fair games.
OnlinePokerReport.com reported at the time that the bill failed to gain much traction before the end of the 2017 West Virginia legislative session, but also painted an optimistic future for similar efforts in the future.
West Virginia Gambling Law
West Virginia’s gambling laws aren’t very well-developed compared to some other states. For example, the state offers no formal definition of the word “gambling” and many of the statutes are vague. It’s a bit of a chore to flesh out the meaning behind these laws but I’ve made the effort right here. Just note that if you need serious legal advice for anything related to gambling, you should speak to an actual attorney.
Chapter 61 Article 10 of the West Virginia Criminal Code comprises the bulk of the state’s general gaming laws. Section §61-10-1 makes it a criminal offense to keep any gaming table, machine or device. This section outlaws unlicensed poker games as it includes text that specifically classifies any table used to play cards as illegal.
Section §61-10-5 makes it illegal to participate in gambling, even if done at a private residence. This section effectively outlaws home poker games even if they are played with friends and even if the house takes no profit. Here’s the key piece of text from that section:
If any person at any place, public or private, bet or wage money or other thing of value on any game of chance, or shall knowingly furnish any money or other thing of value to any other person to bet or wage on any such game, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than five nor more than three hundred dollars, and shall, if required by the court, give security for his good behavior for one year…
A $300 misdemeanor isn’t too draconian but it does clearly show that social poker and gambling games are illegal anywhere in the state. You’ll need to visit the nearest casino or racetrack if you’d like to stay 100% within the confines of the law.
The words “internet” and “online” are found nowhere in the state’s gaming laws so there is room for some interpretation on whether or not it is legal to visit unlicensed offshore gaming sites. It wouldn’t be a stretch for a prosecutor to apply Section §61-10-5 to online betting but there is zero precedence for that in West Virginia. To date, no resident has ever been charged for the crime of online gambling.
The West Virginia Lottery does not yet sell lottery tickets or offer any games online but officials are considering the idea. If you stumble across any of those websites that purport to sell WV lotto tickets online, know that the site is operating illegally and is in no way associated with the actual lottery. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not you’ll be paid if you win big through one of those sites.
In addition to running the usual lottery drawings and selling scratch tickets, the lottery operates video lottery terminals across the state and table games at licensed racetracks. The Racetrack Table Games Act gave the lottery the authority to host real money table games at 4 of the state’s racetracks. Permitted table games include roulette, craps, blackjack, poker and other games approved by the Lottery Commission.
In 1994, voters approved the installation of lottery-controlled slot machines (video lottery terminals) at each of the state’s racetracks. Legislators passed a law in 2001 that authorized the lottery to place up to 9,000 slot machines at locations with Class A alcohol licenses.