An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In West Virginia
West Virginia are gambling friendly in most respects, with 4 major and 1 minor casinos offering the full range of games – pari-mutuel betting, lottery and charity gambling are also available. Like in many States, there is nothing specifically banning online gambling in this State, and the vaguely worded statutes even make it possible that one could argue that this is possible. As things stand online gambling is considered covered, and the opportunities for gamblers wide enough to keep everyone reasonably happy. This article gives you an in-depth overview of the gambling laws in West Virginia.
First up below you will find a rapid-fire history and overview of gambling in West Virginia. This is followed by a game-by-game look into which formats are legal at this time, and which are not. After that the key quotes from the Statutes are covered, along with a legal time-line. Finally you will find a summary, along with a look at possible future scenarios.
Gambling was quiet in this State for many years, while there was a history of horse racing with the associated pari-mutuel betting, there was little else available – at least legally.
In the 1990’s, this all changed with a bill licensing casino gaming. The main beneficiaries of this were the 4 major racetracks, Charles Town, Chester, Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras. These became the go-to places for slots and other video games, and well as live and simulcast racing. While the move from racetrack to Racino was a welcome source of extra revenue for these venues, they were still missing the most lucrative games of all at this point in their history – casino table games.
These were approved in 2007, and have created a further boom for the racetracks. In addition to the usual casino games, there are poker rooms offering daily tournaments and cash games. A fifth casino would follow after approval in 2008, the Greenbrier Hotel and casino opened its doors in 2010.
Other than the racetrack venues, poker players are out of luck in West Virginia. There is no carve-out for social (home) games under the current statutes, and no movement towards regulated online poker. Some people suggest that West Virginia and Delaware would make a good partnership in any liquidity-sharing online poker compact. Unfortunately this is speculation and there are no official words on this subject. In my opinion by the time West Virginia joins any regulated poker market, there will be many more partners to choose from and sharing arrangements will already be an established part of the scene.
The one consolation for poker players who would like to enjoy home games is that gambling busts in this State are very rare compared to other States, it does not look like small-stakes social games are on their radar at all.
Gambling options are rounded out by lottery and charitable bingo betting and raffles. The lottery runs Video Lottery Terminals, which have replaced the now outlawed video-poker machines in many of the bars.
Casino Games: Yes, there are 4 major racetrack casinos in West Virginia, plus a historical casino resort.
Online Casinos: No, there is no specific wording banning gambling on the internet, however this is assumed to be covered by the (vaguely worded) existing statutes.
Live Poker: Yes, plenty of tables at the racetrack casinos. Home games are not carved out under the laws here, though there are very few gambling arrests in this State, and small stakes social home-games do not appear to be on the radar of the authorities at all.
Online Poker: No, there is no official word on the consideration of online poker games at this moment. This State is often mentioned as a perfect partner for Delaware in sharing poker liquidity.
Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting is allowed, including simulcast betting.
Lottery Betting: Yes, West Virginia has a State lottery, which also operate ‘lottery terminals’ (pseudo-slots) from licensed adult premises (commonly known as bars!)
Bingo Games: Yes, bingo and raffle games are carved out under the charity gambling laws.
Broad statutes are designed to catch all types of gambling in one high-level definition, and usually come with wording to the effect of ‘unless we specifically approve it, consider it illegal’. The West Virginia statutes are extremely broad, and yet at the same time are very vague. This might explain the relative lack of gambling arrests in this State (since they are not sure charges would stick with such vague laws).
The main target of the law is the bet, and ‘game of chance’ (which is not specified). This could in theory be an out for poker players arguing the ‘skill game’ case – however these have not succeeded in many other jurisdictions. Here is the key wording:
There is also wording about keeping of gambling devices (tables, slots and so on) which could be used instead:
With no further legal precedents to go on, we will just have to take the government’s word for it that most kinds of gambling are illegal here.
Below is a legal timeline for the major gambling laws:
1931: West Virginia Racing Commission created to oversee the operations of racetracks including any pari-mutuel betting.
1986: The West Virginia State lottery begins, this State were an early member of the Multi-State lottery association, which pre-dated the current inter-State games.
1994: Racetrack Video Lottery Act was passed, this allowed Video Lottery Terminals at racetracks, and has since been expanded to allow them in bars with 2001 legislation banning ‘grey’ market video poker machines.
1994: Act passed authorizing casino and riverboat gambling in this State, this heralded the start of the race-track casinos in this State, though it would be 15 more years before table games were approved.
2007: Table games were finally made legal at the 4 racetrack-casinos, though this required the approval of the local populations via a referendum.
2008: Fifth casino added, at the Greenbrier Historic Hotel, this opened in 2010.
Despite the vaguely worded Statutes, the gambling industry in West Virginia is centered on the legal casino-racetracks – who offer a great range of slots, table games and live poker in this State. The lack of social poker games here sticks out as an anomaly in an otherwise gambling-friendly State. Video lottery terminals and many opportunities to bet on horse races round out the options.
There are as-yet no official words about regulating in-state gambling, though the lottery commission did look into how this would impact the current laws following the 2011 clarification of the Wire act. I can see no reason why this State would not regulate poker games online once this model has proven to be successful in other States – though talk of sharing liquidity specifically with Delaware feels premature.
Summary Of Statutes
Charity Laws And Background (Double PDF at the end of this URL is correct)