The gloriously breath-taking views that gave West Virginia its nickname – The Mountain State – are surely the most memorable feature for the 1.85 million people who live there, as well as countless more visited its magnificently diverse landscape. It is known for many things; logging, coal mining and one of the most karstic topographies the world has to offer, making it prime destination for scientists and amateur explorers alike. It’s also a well-known terminus for all types of gamblers.
West Virginia presents five land-based betting facilities, mostly in the form of racinos – horse racing and greyhound racing tracks with casinos attached. Charitable bingo games and a multi-faceted state lottery are also on the menu. All of these activities are perfectly legal, so long as they are licensed and authorized by the state and the players are old enough to partake in such services. With such a deep rooted amicability to the concept of raising tax dollars through the promotion of gambling, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that online poker might be – or at least should be – legal in West Virginia.
Legality of Online Poker in West Virginia
We know that online poker is not specifically regulated in the state, as it is in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. That doesn’t necessarily make it illegal, but it does lead to the requisite in-depth analysis of the state’s relatively antiquated gambling laws. Determining the legalities of online poker takes time, patience and an ample appreciation for legal scripture. We certainly don’t claim to be authorities in that regard, and always encourage our readers to seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for more precise results, but we do make every effort to draw our own conclusion when it comes to an individual state’s online poker laws.
Below we will examine the gambling laws of West Virginia and attempt to give our opinion as to whether online poker is legal to play in the state. We will follow that up with a brief discussion on the possibility of online poker regulation in West Virginia.
West Virginia Code – Gambling
The following quotes are taken from the West Virginia Code, Title 61, Chapter 10, dealing with crimes against public policy and the penalties therefor. Note that some text may be shortened or condensed to maintain relevance, but the meaning has not been altered.
Any person who shall keep or exhibit a gaming table, commonly called A.B.C. or E.O. table, or faro bank, or keno table, or any slot machine, multiple coin console machine, multiple coin console slot machine or device in the nature of a slot machine, or any other gaming table or device of like kind, under any denomination, or which has no name, whether the game, table, bank, machine or device be played with cards, dice or otherwise, or shall be a partner, or concerned in interest, in keeping or exhibiting such… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in jail [for 2-12 months] and be fined [$100-$1,000]…
If any person bet or play at any such gaming table, bank or device as is mentioned in [§61-10-1], or if, at any… public place… he play at any game except bowls, chess or backgammon, draughts or a licensed game, or bet on the sides of those who play at any game, whether the game be permitted or licensed or not, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined [$5-$100], and shall, if required by the court, give security for his good behavior for one year, or, in default thereof, may be imprisoned in the county jail not more than three months.
If any person at any place, public or private, bet or wage [anything] of value on any game of chance, or [knowingly furnish money for such purpose], he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined [$5-$300], and shall, if required by the court, give security for his good behavior for one year, and in default of the payment of such fine and the costs and the execution of such bond, if such bond be required, shall be imprisoned in the county jail [for 10-30 days].
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in West Virginia?
The first section (61-10-1) deals with what types of gambling are considered illegal, and includes a “game, table, bank, machine or device… played with cards”. Since there is no available definition of what a gaming device is, it’s hard to say whether a computer can or cannot be considered such. However, it’s hard to argue that online poker is not a “game… played with cards”.
The next section (61-10-4) deals with penalties for playing/betting at the games mentioned in section 61-10-1 (which, again, includes games with cards). It specifically states an exemption for “a licensed game”, which would legally insinuate that any unlicensed variety of gambling with cards is illegal. Conviction for this crime can result in a fine of $5-$100 and possible jail time of up to 3 months.
The last section (6-10-5) deals with “games of chance”. There is no definition of what constitutes a game of chance, and we would assume that poker games fall into the above category wherein cards are explicitly mentioned. However, should the state decide that poker is a ‘game of chance’, the fine is increased to $5-$300 with possible jail time of 10-30 days.
While it’s not clear which penalty the activity might fall under, we would have to assume that online poker is illegal in West Virginia.
Is West Virginia working to regulate online poker?
We’re happy to report that online poker regulation is a probable reality for West Virginia. While there has been no public display of support from state officials, there is a clear competitive nature between the Mountain State and its neighbors, particularly Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Pennsylvania and Maryland have been steadily increasing their land-based gambling offerings, as has West Virginia, while Delaware and New Jersey have both moved forward with online gaming regulation. Both are actively promoting online poker and casino activities to their populace on an intrastate basis. In order to remain competitive, as seems to be a priority for West Virginia, online poker regulation will ostensibly arise as an urgent matter for discussion in 2014.