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West Virginia

West Virginia has a long history with the gambling industry, particularly when it comes to horse racing. Particularly, the last 25 years have been a very busy period for the state: there is now a large casino presence here, one that offers the full range of classic games that are enjoyed by gamblers around the world.

Unfortunately for those who want to play online, there has been relatively little effort put into regulating Internet gambling sites in the state. However, some state officials have at least kept an open mind about the issue, which could be a signal that the Mountain State isn’t quite so far away from joining the online gaming fray as some might think.

Long Racing History Defines Market

West Virginia’s racing history is one that stretches back nearly unbroken across the centuries, dating back to the colonial days of the 18th century. However, the modern era of gambling on the ponies only began in 1933, when the state first began allowed for parimutuel racing. Within a few years, at least two tracks were in operation (Charles Town Turf Club and Wheeling Downs), later to be joined by Waterford Park and Shenandoah Downs.

Through the 1970s, these tracks continued to operate successfully. However, that decade saw a decline across the board, and a number of closures (both permanent and temporary) and changes in ownership followed.

In 1987, Waterford Park was renamed (by new owners) as Mountaineer Park, and the new operators reached an agreement with the state to allow the track to host video lottery terminals for a trial period. If you’ve ever heard the term “racino,” this is where it started – one small experiment that eventually bloomed into allowing slot machines at all four of the major race tracks in West Virginia.

Today, all of those tracks operate casinos alongside their racing operations. In 2007, the tracks basically became fully fledged casinos, as they were also allowed to offer table games, including poker.

Interestingly, there is one other place to gamble in the state outside of the tracks. The Greenbrier, a historic luxury resort near White Sulphur Springs, was struggling in the final years of the past decade. But in 2008, voters in Greenbrier County approved a plan that would allow gambling at the hotel. While only guests are allowed to play here, there’s a loose definition of who counts: sign up for a tour or eat in one of the hotel restaurants, and you can take part in the full range of games, which now includes simulcasts of horse races.

This state is also home to a fairly long-standing lottery. Back in 1984, voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution that allowed for the establishment of the lottery; a year later, the legislature approved it as well, and then Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr. signed it into law in April 1985.

By early 1986, the first tickets were on sale. Today, the state generates more than $1.2 billion in lottery sales each year, with more than 40 different games being offered. These include popular multistate games like Mega Millions and Powerball.

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Online Expansion Seen as a Possibility

At the moment, there is no regulated online casino play in West Virginia, and we would be surprised to see this change in the immediate future. There haven’t been any bills brought before the legislature, and they haven’t held the kinds of meetings and forums seen in states like Pennsylvania or California.

But that doesn’t mean that the long-term prospects here are bad. All of the gambling stakeholders in the state appear to view Internet play as an opportunity rather than as a threat. Both lottery officials and casino owners are at least open to the idea, and some legislators have floated the idea as a possibility – provided that the proper protections could be put into place for consumers.

Still, there are no locally-regulated sites at the moment, so residents who want to play on the Internet only have two choices: take a trip up to Atlantic City, or play on one of the many foreign sites that offer their games in West Virginia. These overseas options regard the state as a “grey market,” and with no laws preventing players from participating on them, many individuals in the state play casino games for real money online at trustworthy sites on a regular basis.

Future Looks Bright

There may not be any licensed online gaming in West Virginia at the moment, many believe that this could be one of the states on the path towards full legalization over the next several years. There are a number of reasons to believe this: not only are the right people saying the right things throughout the state, but there is a lot of regional pressure building, something that will become even more obvious should Pennsylvania push forward with Internet regulation in 2016. We’re not expecting the Mountain State to join the online gambling marketplace in the next few years, but they could be a good medium-term bet to approve such betting.

On the land-based side of things, the biggest challenge going forward will, once again, be the increasing competition from surrounding states. Pennsylvania is the major driver in the area, as the state not only has resorts that pull in significant gambling dollars, but also its own racinos that go head-to-head for the same clientele as those in West Virginia. The biggest question may be whether all of the state’s tracks can survive in the current climate, or if there are simply too many racinos in the Mid-Atlantic for all of them to thrive in the long term.

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