West Virginia Online Gaming Bill Unlikely to Gain Approval in 2017

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West Virginia lawmakers have taken the first step towards legalizing online poker – but don’t expect them to take the second any time soon.

West Virginia is the seventh state to introduce online gaming legislation in 2017, but with the legislative session winding down – it ends in just two weeks – the proposal from Del. Shawn Fluharty isn’t expected to garner enough support in 2017.

Instead, it should be seen as a conversation starter for online gaming in the state moving forward.

Fluharty, a Democrat, recently introduced House Bill 3067, a bill that would allow West Virginia’s five casinos to offer online gaming.

In an email, Fluharty said he introduced online gaming legislation because he believes the West Virginia gaming industry needs to evolve as neighboring states continue to expand their gaming options. Fluharty has also introduced a bill to legalize sports betting at licensed gaming facilities in West Virginia.

“Online gaming and sports betting would allow for our state to compete at the highest level and derive increased revenue in a very budget-strapped state,” Fluharty said, noting West Virginia’s projected $500 million budget deficit. “It’s important that we focus on new revenue streams instead of simply reverting to the old playbook of raising taxes and these particular pieces of legislation represent new revenue streams.”

Fluharty’s online gaming proposal includes a licensing fee of $50,000 and a 14 percent tax rate on gaming revenue. For comparison, Pennsylvania is considering a licensing fee upwards of $10 million and tax rate between 14 and 25 percent, while legislation in New York includes a $10 million licensing fee and 15 percent tax rate.

The bill from Fluharty also includes language for approving interstate compacts with other states that offer online gaming. The bill is pending in the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee, which Fluharty serves as Minority Vice Chair.

But Fluharty is realistic about his online gaming bill’s chances in 2017, noting that it is unlikely that House leadership will even pick up his legislation this session.

“By introducing the legislation and showing the economical benefit, it helps spur conversation and gain momentum for future passage,” he said. “ It’s hard to ignore facts for too long, even in politics, so I am hopeful this will get the ball rolling and help legislators realize we need this legislation to benefit our state.”

In fact, Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead has already come out against the proposal.

Jared Hunt, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead told GamblingCompliance.com in an email “The speaker does not support the bill.”

Although Fluharty’s proposal isn’t expected to gain much traction this year, it may come up again in the near future as West Virginia’s gaming revenues have fallen in recent years due to expanded gaming markets in neighboring states.

In January 2017, West Virginia saw a 15.22 percent decrease in gaming revenue compared to 2016. The drop in revenue is, in part, due to the opening of MGM National Harbor in Maryland, just a little over an hour’s drive from the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Fluharty, who represents Ohio County along the Pennsylvania border, noted that he has followed Pennsylvania’s online gaming discussions very closely and that did factor into his decision to introduce his bill.

“Obviously, I want to incentivize residents of Pennsylvania coming to West Virginia,” he said. “If we can jump on these opportunities before Pennsylvania and Maryland, then West Virginia can benefit before the inevitable passage by our competitors.”