Even if you aren’t in West Virginia, if you love poker, every victory along the road to making the game legal is worth celebrating. So when West Virginia became the fourth state in the country in 2019 to legalize online poker, champagne corks were popping all across the country.
It’s a small state, and as of now, it’s a fenced-in market. So getting online casinos up and running has taken center stage. But once that is done, and online gaming gains a foothold, look for the poker rooms to follow.
It took several years of effort, but finally, with the passage of HB 2934, West Virginia online poker was legalized, along with online casino games and sports betting. That was in March of 2019. The bill became law 90 days later after Governor Jim Justice allowed his veto window to expire.
As quickly as West Virginia responded to legalized sports betting, they have taken their time with legalized online poker. The West Virginia Lottery Commission - the regulatory body of the gambling industry in the state - has visited neighboring states with legalized poker to make sure they are doing things the right way.
West Virginia has leaned quite heavily on Pennsylvania in writing its own rules.
Because of the shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission was forced to delay much of its work. But the rules have been written, and West Virginia online poker is coming.
Currently, there are no real-money poker sites operating in West Virginia. But the cupboard won’t be bare forever. There are some obvious fits to the market that poker players in the state can look forward to having.Ayden Fahlstrom
BetMGM entered the sportsbook market in early 2020. For fans of poker, this is an important development because of MGM’s connection with GVC, which owns PartyPoker.
BetMGM is one of the sports betting skins associated with The Casino Club at The Greenbrier. When The Greenbrier looks to expand into the poker market, the fit with GVC and PartyPoker seems obvious.
Two other sites make sense for the West Virginia market, and for two differing reasons. PokerStars is the biggest provider of online poker globally and has seen success with its operation in Pennsylvania.
The desire to move across the state line and into West Virginia seems like a natural fit for PokerStars.
One problem for PokerStars is that the Mountaineer Casino, which was part of The Stars Group - the parent company of PokerStars - is now affiliated with Caesars, which is connected to WSOP.com.
WSOP is on its way to Pennsylvania. When that has happened, it makes sense that they would turn their sites onto West Virginia. And if WSOP hits the Mountain state first, it might delay a PokerStars entry.
Sweepstakes poker sites like Global Poker are technically not real-money poker sites. That allows them to operate legally in 49 states - including West Virginia.
Global Poker pits players from different states against one another. It gets around the legal technicalities by having players purchase gold coins and sweeps coins. The poker games are then played with those. They do not have any monetary value but can be redeemed for cash.
The biggest challenge facing the poker market in West Virginia is size. Is the population big enough to support enough games 24 hours a day? Sweepstakes poker sites do not have that problem.
If you love poker in person, you’re likely to love it online. It is the same game, with the same winning hands, and the same strategies regarding how you leverage bets vs. how your opponents leverage theirs.
But the experience of the two ways to play - in person and online - can be very different. And before you venture into the online poker world, there are a few things you need to know.
The biggest difference, and the difference you’ll notice right away, is just how much faster the play is online.
In a live game, people talk. You spend time studying your opponents. All of the physical acts of dealing and betting take time. When you’re playing online, on the other hand, people don't talk nearly as much, if at all, and each game is dealt automatically.
When dealing with the change in the pace of play, there are potential pitfalls. Going from online to live poker, you may become quite bored. And the more bored you are, the less your focus becomes. And the less you are likely to win.
The solution to this problem is to focus on the players, the tells, the cards, the chips, and everything else that goes into winning at poker becomes extra important.
On the other side of the coin, if you are going from the live game to online poker, the faster pace can be a shock to your system. Keeping track of how each player bets becomes harder. You must decide on your moves that much faster.
Everything works at a quicker pace online, so you should definitely spend some time practicing faster hands to get your instincts used to it.
There is no live poker room that features as many variations of poker as what you can find online. You’ll also notice that blinds and tournament buy-ins are considerably higher in person, precisely because of that lack of variety.
At an online site, it is much easier to find a game to your liking, and one that better fits your budget.
The nearest live poker room may be hours away. The nearest online poker room is on your couch. You have easy access to the bathroom, your refrigerator, and pizza delivery.
You can also play at any time of day and in any comfortable state of dress that you choose. There is definitely excitement when sitting at a table across from your opponents. But the convenience of online poker is undeniable.
Unless you are a high-stakes player, online poker is more competitive than at a live poker room. This is because online playerse have access to strategy guides and odds tables and a variety of other tools that can help them make the most informed decision. Plus, there are no tells online.
When sitting at a live table, players only have their memory to guide their decision making. Also, many offline players only play occasionally, whenever they visit a casino. Online, people play more often, and are therefore more experienced.
It’s hard to say exactly what poker games will be available when online poker rooms begin operating. But since West Virginia is leaning heavily on Pennsylvania for direction, and the sites operating in Pennsylvania are the most likely to open in West Virginia, we can make some pretty solid guesses.
The world’s most popular poker game, in which players use two hole cards and five community cards to make the best five-card hand. If you play poker, you play Texas Hold'em.
Also extremely popular with regular poker players, Omaha gives the player four of their own cards (instead of just two) to make the best hand. Only two of the four can be used when creating that hand.
The same version of Omaha as above, but with a split pot. The high hand and the low hand each take half the money.
In this version of Omaha, you have five hole cards but can still only use two of them to make your best hand.
Played exactly like five-card Omaha, but with a split pot between the high and low hands.
It’s likely that there will also eventually be versions of draw poker and stud poker, as well as 2-7 low card poker, that get approval from the commission and become online options.
Be it PlayPoker, PokerStars, or WSOP, there will be a wide variety of available tournaments for West Virginia poker players. There will be even more if the state joins in an interstate pact with other small states.
Tournaments will range from state and seasonal championships to day-of-the-week special tournaments that anyone can enter. As more players come online, more tournaments will become available across the calendar.
As far as tournament formats are concerned, you’ll encounter both Sit and Go Tournaments (the tournament begins when enough players sit and pay the buy-in) and Spin and Go Tournaments (three players and random prizes and jackpots.)
Just like online casinos, poker sites need to attract your business. And even though no one is online just yet to offer you live poker, when it happens, you can expect to see these types of bonus offers.
It’s not uncommon for online poker sites to give players a bonus of between $20 and $50 just for signing up. It’s often in the form of a free play or entrance into a tournament, so it’s not straight cash that can be withdrawn. But still, free is free, and free is good.
Along with what is typically a modest amount of money for a welcome bonus, players should look for what is typically a much larger amount of money in a deposit bonus.
These are usually connected to the very first deposit a player makes - so make sure you know about all possible deposit bonuses before you put any money in your account. You’d hate to leave money on the table by failing to meet all of the deposit requirements.
One thing to note about deposit requirements: you will have certain playthrough requirements before that money becomes cash that you can withdraw. This will include tournament fees and rake, and once you meet certain benchmarks, portions of the bonus will be converted to cash. Be sure to read all of the requirements before making that first deposit.
PokerStars does have a Stars Rewards program, so if it comes to West Virginia, it makes sense that it would bring along Stars Rewards. For their program, a player gains points for every dollar spent, and those points can be used to open up a variety of prize chests.
Most loyalty programs in the industry are connected to casinos. So if an online casino in the state opens up a poker room, chances are good that the same loyalty program will be available to poker customers.
Middle of the week discounted tournament buy-ins will be something to look for. It’s a way for the online operator to open up certain tournaments to players who are otherwise limited by a smaller bankroll.
You’ll also find that deposit bonuses for established players are occasionally rolled out to keep people loyal. Special events and holiday bonuses and tournaments are also something that players can expect.
Whether you are accessing an online poker room through its website or mobile app, signing up for your new account will be easy and user friendly.
West Virginia state law requires the following information.
Once you register for your new account, you will pick a username and password and then be asked to follow through on a couple of security steps. Once that is all finished, you will be ready to make your first deposit.
One of the most important aspects of any online gaming platform is how it processes banking. Because of our experience with online sportsbooks and banking in the state, we have a good sense of what will be available at online poker rooms.
West Virginia poker sites are likely to offer the following deposit options:
Not all online casinos and sportsbooks provide prepaid cards, so there’s no guarantee that all poker rooms will. Be sure to know if the poker room you choose to join offers them.
It’s important to note that many credit card companies treat payment to gambling establishments as if they were a cash advance. Always check with your issuing bank before using your credit card.
It may also help to inform your credit card company of your intention to make a deposit, so they won’t automatically put a hold on it.
You’ll also find that even though all of the electronic wallet options are available in West Virginia - PayPal, Skrill, Neteller, etc. - they are not all universally accepted by operators.
It is always recommended to use a deposit method that can be reversed for quick and easy withdrawal, if available. But if circumstances prevent you from doing that, most poker rooms in West Virginia are likely to accept the following means of account withdrawal.
Opting to have a personal check sent to you in the mail will result in several days of delay for processing and mailing. Also, since your poker room of choice will have to be affiliated with a retail casino, it is possible that you will be able to make deposits and withdrawals at their physical casino cage.
Some states have entered into multi-state agreements, allowing players to engage in online poker with players from other states. For West Virginia to become a thriving online poker market, it will probably need to go this route.
Essentially that means they have to take down the fences and open up their offerings. A fenced-in market is limited to just that one state.
Delaware is a small state in the region and would be a natural partner for multi-state poker.
Many customers may be tempted to play at an offshore or unregulated poker site while waiting for legal sites to open up in West Virginia. We urge against doing this for one very simple reason: Safety.
No regulation means that there is no guarantee that your identity or banking information will be safe. On the other hand, a properly regulated site will be required to use the very best security software and data encryption.
If you absolutely have to play poker, go to one of the five casinos in the state and play in their poker rooms. And remain patient. Online poker is coming.
All customers of online poker rooms will be required to report all winnings on a W-2 form. Online operators will pay a 15% tax rate on all revenue from poker rooms.
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