The 50-State iGaming Initiative: Virginia to Wyoming
Internet gaming (iGaming), which is legal and regulated in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, managed to survive Sheldon Adelson’s attempts to attach the Restoration of the American Wire Act (RAWA) to must-pass legislation in 2014, and advocates are hopeful for positive movement in 2015.
With little hope for proactive federal legislation, online poker advocates must rely on individual states to get the job done. To help make sense of the convoluted iGaming scene across the country, PokerNews has undertaken a 50-state initiative — a series of articles aimed at presenting the current iGaming landscape for all 50 states.
So far we’ve examined 45 of the 50 states:
- Part I: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, and California
- Part II: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, and Georgia
- Part III: Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa
- Part IV: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, and Maryland
- Part V: Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Missouri
- Part VI: Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey
- Part VII: New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio
- Part VIII: Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina
- Part IX: South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Vermont
In this article, we take a look at the last five states (alphabetically) in quick synopses. You can also learn more about these states and all the rest, including how you can make a difference, by visiting the PPA website at ThePPA.org.
Virginia (Est. population as of 2013 – 8,260,405)
Despite other states on the east coast making iGaming strides, Virginia isn’t a state much mentioned. However, it did pop up late last year when Sheldon Adelson commissioned a series of polls to gauge iGaming sentiments in four states, one being Virginia. Surprisingly, the study revealed that 54 percent of voters approved of legalized gambling “as a way to generate revenue for the state,” though they did lean negatively when it came to Las Vegas style games.
Even though Virginia residents favored gambling, they didn’t feel the same way toward iGaming, at least according to the study. In fact, there was a 55-33 margin favoring a ban on iGaming.
Virginia also made headlines in early 2013 when the Virginia Supreme Court decided not to rule on whether poker was a game of skill or chance. It stemmed from a court ruling against poker club owner Charles P. Daniels, who had his establishment shut down in 2010 as part of Virginia’s anti-gambling laws.
Portsmouth Circuit Judge Thomas S. Shadricko originally ruled that Virginia’s anti-gambling statute applied Texas hold 'em because “the outcome of any one hand is uncertain,” making it a game of chance. Daniels’ appealed, the State Supreme Court heard it, including testimony from 2004 World Series of Poker champ Greg Raymer, and then upheld the ruling saying “it provides fair notice and an individual of ordinary intelligence can discern its meaning.” They declined to touch the “skill vs. chance” aspect of poker.
Virginia seems to lean conservative, which doesn’t bode well for iGaming’s chances. Don’t expect them to enter the fray anytime soon, though if other states take up the cause, there could very well be a paradigm shift among lawmakers.
Washington (Est. population as of 2013 – 6,971,406)
Washington took an early stance against iGaming. In June 2006, the legislation passed a bill, SSB 6613, that made it a Class C felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and/or five years in prison to play poker online. It was a harsh penalty, but the state supreme court upheld the law in September of 2010 when challenged by Lee Rousso, an attorney who served as the PPA's Washington state director. That in turn inspired sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to pull out of the state.
Washington became the first state to make it a crime to play online poker, and a poll in 2011 indicated 79 percent of registered voters disagreed with the law. Despite that, and attempts by the PPA to get the law off the books, it still stands and online poker is a big no-no in Washington.
In early 2013, Rep. Paul Harris sponsored a bill that would have made the law less severe, making it a civil infraction with a maximum $50 fine, but the bill ultimately died in committee.
“We're more disappointed than surprised,” PPA Executive Director John Pappas told PokerNews. “What we've done is build a strong base of support there. I think next year we'll be in a good position to push even a broader bill. Our goal is not just to repeal the law in the state but to establish a licensed and regulated market. This would have been a nice step in the interim to have this bill done, and we're really upset that clearly it has been tabled for the year.”
Washington is a long way from iGaming, especially when you consider they’re more concerned with changing a law against it than legalizing and regulating it. Still, there have been some positive changes, including the departure of Margarita Prentice, who pushed for SSB 6613, from the state Senate after 20 years. That’s inspired iGaming advocates to take up the issue with new vigor.
“The goal this year is to come up with a measure that can be agreed upon in the next session in 2015 that runs January-April. Failing that we can look at an initiative drive for next year that would likely put the measure on the ballot in 2016,” said Curtis Woodard of the Washington Internet Poker Initiative.
It doesn’t look good for iGaming in Washington, but many residents are fighting the good fight.
West Virginia (Est. population as of 2013 – 1,854,304)
Back in August, the Charleston Daily Mail reported that the West Virginia Lottery was considering iGaming to help compete against nearby states, though it mainly concerned selling lottery tickets online and not online poker.
According to lottery director John Musgrave, he previously met with casino executives to discuss the possibility.
“We’re still exploring (online gaming) because we feel that’s the way the industry’s moving, so we want to plan for it,” said Musgrave. “We have not yet made any decision for how we’re going to implement it, but we are looking at it, studying it and seeing how our casinos in our jurisdiction can move in that direction.”
The “Mountain State” currently has four racetracks, and apparently all are approaching the idea with an open mind.
"We believe the response from the casinos was favorable and hopefully provided a better understanding of what this sales channel could do to advance technology solutions and position the state for the future of gaming," Musgrave said.
The state Legislature would have to approve any iGaming measures, but as of Sept. 2014 it didn’t seem to be a topic on their plate.
"It's not something we've explored yet, but I might be open to the suggestion if it contained appropriate security and fraud prevention measures," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
With gambling revenues on the decline at West Virginia’s brick-and-mortar venues, it’s understandable they’d turn to iGaming as an option. In fact, a study by Morgan Stanley projects West Virginia as one of 20 states that will legalize and regulate online poker, albeit not until 2020.
Wisconsin (Est. population as of 2013 – 5,742,713)
The state of Wisconsin hasn’t exactly shown interest in iGaming, but some tribes that operate gaming ventures in the “Badger State” certainly have. The first instance of this was when the sovereign Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians joined the Tribal Internet Gaming Alliance (TIGA), an alliance of Indian Tribes working collectively to bring internet gaming to Indian Country within the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and other state and federal laws.
“As online gaming legislation progresses throughout the United States, the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council recognizes the need to stay in the forefront of the potential opportunities,” said the tribe.
The Lac du Flambeau was the first tribe to join TIGA, which plans to develop a real-money online gaming platform by first helping Tribes with networked fun-play sites to enhance casino marketing. They were also the first to ratify the TIGA Treaty, an inter-governmental iGaming agreement between tribes that will hopefully lead to an iGaming coalition.
“TIGA can help its member tribes compete in an off-reservation environment when the applicable state or the federal government allows internet gaming," said Jeffrey Nelson, legal counsel for TIGA. "When that happens, we will be ready to help even small tribes obtain a license and compete.”
With the Lac du Flambeau putting an emphasis on iGaming, other tribe around the state have taken notice including Potawatomi Casino & Hotel in Milwaukee.
“Potawatomi Bingo Casino’s presence in an increasingly digital world is a big part of our marketing plans, both now and into the future. We have a vibrant web site and we’re active on a number of social media platforms,” said Potawatomi General Manager Mike Goodrich. “With the proliferation of all kinds of entertainment on laptops, smart phones and tablets, online gambling is certainly a hot-button issue. We are actively monitoring online gambling and continually evaluate how it may fit into our future.”
While tribes are considering iGaming, the legislature hasn’t been as quick to act. In fact, about the only development was the refusal of State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sign a letter – the Internet Gambling Control Act — advocating for the prohibition of online poker in the United States.
Additionally, there is a "Legal Poker In Wisconsin" effort being spearheaded by a group of poker players, including PPA state director Steve Verrett, that aims for a declaratory judgment to define the legality of live poker within the state of Wisconsin by naming it a game of skill. A judge will consider the issue shortly, and his ruling will certainly have repercussions throughout the states.
Wyoming (Est. population as of 2013 – 582,658)
Back in 2011, Wyoming was one of seven states that did not have a lottery. That changed in 2013 when House Bill 77 passed through the Wyoming State Legislature and was subsequently signed into law by Republican Governor Matt Mead.
It took years for the state, which has three casinos (Wind River Casino, Little Wind Casino, and Shoshone Rose Casino – all in Fremont County), to enact a lottery, which suggests they’re a long way off from any serious iGaming movement. In fact, about the only development in that regard was Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael signing onto the Internet Gambling Control Act, which seeks federal prohibition of online poker.
Wyoming isn’t on the iGaming radar, though the state’s small population means it wouldn’t be a big player even if it was.
*Lead photo courtesy of fc05.deviantart.net.