Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Is West Virginia the Next Frontier for Expansion of Real Money Online Poker?

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Is West Virginia the Next Frontier for Expansion of Real Money Online Poker?
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A series of developments over the last ten months strongly suggests that West Virginia could soon be welcoming multiple real money online poker operators.

It’s been a long time coming. Lawmakers passed a bill allowing real money online poker back in March 2019, but to date no online poker operators have deployed there. That’s expected to change following recent changes both within and outside the Mountain State.

West Virginia online poker will never be huge on its own — with a population of just under 1.8 million, the state ranks 39th in terms of population. But the state is also uniquely positioned to become the next frontier for the expansion of US online poker.

A Game Changer: West Virginia Joins MSIGA

Any discussion about the future of real money online poker would be woefully incomplete without mentioning a key event — the day that West Virginia officially became a member state of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).

It was a real game changer, and it happened on November 14, 2023. With membership in MSIGA, any real money online poker operators that launch in West Virginia could request permission to offer multi-state poker, and could combine its player pools between WV and other MSIGA states.

Up until that date, West Virginia was a segregated market. That likely explains why no operators have launched in the state so far — with only 1.8 million residents, the market is also tiny compared to more populous states with legal real money online poker, like Michigan (10 million residents) and New Jersey (9.3 million).

The other MSIGA states are Delaware and Nevada, with populations of 1 million and 3.2 million, respectively.

In the wake of West Virginia joining MSIGA, representatives from BetMGM Poker and PokerStars US weighed in to suggest that both companies could be interested in launching there. Specifically, PokerStars would “review [its] options” in the state, while BetMGM simply applauded the move.

Consequential Changes in Other States

West Virginia joining MSIGA isn’t the only factor that brought it to the precipice of having real money online poker operators for the first time. Another important thing happened three months earlier.

That’s when the Delaware Lottery made the surprise announcement that it had selected Rush Street Interactive (RSI) as its exclusive igaming provider, replacing 888 Holdings (now Evoke).

While the Lottery picking RSI led to a de facto blackout with online poker in Delaware, that’s expected to change at some point with the launch of BetRivers Poker, a platform in development by RSI.

Online poker players in Delaware are lucky in the sense that the Lottery could have picked an operator that’s heavily into sports betting but has no online poker platform (i.e., DraftKings, FanDuel). If that had been the case, Delaware’s online poker market would have essentially closed permanently.

Delaware’s three racinos previously ran branded skins of 888poker, but the sites shut down in the closing days of 2023. While RSI has said that it plans to reintroduce online poker in Delaware at some point, the operator is very unlikely to launch there first — rather, it would likely launch in bigger MSIGA states like Michigan and New Jersey first.

There was big news last month, too. Entain, which owns half of BetMGM, finally received a standard interactive gaming license from regulators in Nevada. That brings BetMGM Poker NV one step closer to reality. MGM Resorts International owns the other half of BetMGM.

That was followed by WSOP announcing that it had combined its player pools across Michigan, Nevada, and New Jersey. It marked the creation of a new three-state network officially named WSOP Online.

Hypothetical Network Plans in WV

Real money online poker operators are required to submit a letter of intent to the West Virginia Lottery Commission (WVLC) intent to gain the necessary approvals before launching multi-state poker.

Currently, only BetMGM and BetRivers are live in the state — they offer online casino and sports betting in the state.

PokerStars would look to create a three-state network across Michigan, New Jersey, and West Virginia at this point. For WSOP and BetMGM, they would likely aim to create four-state networks that include those three aforementioned states — plus Nevada.

A launch of BetRivers Poker WV is certainly within the realm of possibilities. So is a four-state network across Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

Developments That Could Move WV Online Poker Forward

Date Event
March 9, 2019 Lawmakers pass the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act. Real money online poker and online casino gaming become legal 90 days later.
August 17, 2023 Delaware Lottery picks Rush Street Interactive (RSI) as its exclusive igaming provider. RSI could eventually launch BetRivers Poker DE.
November 14, 2023 West Virginia Lottery announces the state has officially joined MSIGA.
November 20, 2023 Within days, representatives for BetMGM Poker and PokerStars express interest in WV.
December 27, 2023 RSI soft launches variants of BetRivers Sportsbook at three racinos in Delaware.
May 27, 2024 WSOP combines its player pools across Michigan, Nevada, and New Jersey.

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