Although West Virginia has long been rumored as a potential online poker partner for Delaware, the state does not currently have any laws that either specifically authorize or prohibit online poker, nor is it considering any. That leaves the legality of online poker in West Virginia very much in question. If poker is a “game of chance” under WVC 61-10-5, then betting on it even from the privacy of your home is illegal.
As always, players could argue that the bets are not being made in West Virginia if the online poker operator’s servers are not located in the state. It’s not clear how receptive state courts would be to such an argument.
However, given that there is no record of a prosecution for even a West Virginia home game, the risk of prosecution for playing online poker seems remote for anyone other than an operator who sets up shop in the state.
West Virginia’s lottery director, John Musgrave, has stated that the state is exploring their online options. Musgrave told local reporters that they may implement online lottery sales and are not ruling out further online gambling expansion.
West Virginia doesn’t make it easy to learn how exactly poker is licensed and regulated in the state, but the fact remains that the game is fully legal at any of the state’s five racetrack casinos.
West Virginia Code Chapter 29, Article 22C is the West Virginia Lottery Racetrack Table Games Act. It provides for the licensing and regulation of the state’s racetracks that wish to offer table games. The specific regulations, as administered by the West Virginia Lottery Commission, are found here. Poker is listed as an “authorized game” at §179-8-54.
Thanks to those laws, West Virginia has a surprisingly healthy and legal live poker scene. The West Virginia poker scene is most famous for producing Darvin Moon, the runner-up in the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. Moon won his entry to the Main Event by playing in a $130 satellite tournament at Wheeling Island Casino in Wheeling, West Virginia.
West Virginia doesn’t have any tribal casinos, nor does it have any social or home game exception from West Virginia Code §61-10-5, the statute that prohibits betting on games of chance. In fact, that section of the code explicitly includes private games as being prohibited.
Curiously, there is no definition of “game of chance” to be found anywhere in the West Virginia Code, and the West Virginia courts do not seem to have ever considered whether poker is a game of chance. That makes it hard to know whether home poker games are legal or illegal under West Virginia law. At the very least, it would appear that no home game has ever been raided by law enforcement officials for violating the law, but that is at beat weak indication of the legality of such games.