Following a period of uncertainty, it looks like online poker is headed to Pennsylvania in a big way.
The state legalized online gambling as a part of a comprehensive gambling expansion in October 2017. However, when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board began accepting applications for the $10 million license to operate online poker, slots, and table games from the state’s 13 casino license holders in April, none applied.
Then, at the 11th hour before the July 16 deadline, nine casino license holders finally filed applications with the Board.
Now, the licenses for each of the three types of online gambling are available individually at a cost of $4 million each. After another 30 days, any unclaimed licenses could be made available to entities outside the PA casino industry.
This means the four casino license holders that did not apply for the full license to operate all three may still have an interest in at least one.
It also suggests the nine casino license holders that did apply are likely interested in pursuing all three types of online gambling. Because they could have saved millions of dollars on application fees by waiting and applying for the one or two they truly want to get involved in.
That means as many as nine legal and regulated online poker sites could open up in PA in the coming months, assuming the applications are approved and fees fully paid.
Nine PA casinos apply
The nine PA casino license holders that applied for the single license to operate online poker, slots, and table games include:
- Greenwood Gaming, owner and operator of Parx Casino and Racing
- Sands Bethworks Gaming, owner and operator Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, currently waiting for the casino’s $1.3 billion sale to Wind Creek Hospitality to close
- Holdings Acquisition Co., an affiliate of Rush Street Gaming, owner and operator of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
- SugarHouse HSP Gaming, an affiliate of Rush Street Gaming, owner and operator of SugarHouse Casino
- Chester Downs and Marina, an affiliate of Caesars Entertainment, owner and operator of Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack
- Mountain Thoroughbred Racing Association, an affiliate of Penn National Gaming, owner and operator of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Mount Airy #1, the DeNaples family company that owns and operates Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Valley Forge Convention Center Partners, the owner and operator of Valley Forge Casino Resort recently sold to Boyd Gaming Corporation
- Stadium Casino, a partnership between The Cordish Companies and Greenwood Gaming licensed to build a casino on Philadelphia’s Stadium District
The applicants will now have to wait up to 90 days for the Board to approve the application. Then, each has 60 days to pay the $10 million licensing fee.
The PA casinos that have yet to apply for online gambling licenses include:
- Mohegan Sun Pocono
- The Meadows Racetrack and Casino
- Presque Isle Downs & Casino
- Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin
PA’s interest in online poker
Interest in operating an online poker site in Pennsylvania seemed relatively low prior to the filing of the nine applications. Mostly due to the majority of neighboring New Jersey’s online gambling revenues coming from slots and table games. In fact, online poker revenues in New Jersey represent only 7.7 percent of total online gambling revenues, which reached over $245 million in 2017.
However, it is now clear several of the nine applicants have an obvious interest in online poker.
Parx Casino and Racing is the top grossing casino on the state. It also runs the largest and highest grossing poker room. Additionally, Parx has hosted the successful Parx Big Stax poker tournament series since February 2013. It runs five times annually in February, May, August, October, and December. It has become the biggest tournament poker draw in Pennsylvania.
Parx has a partnership with online gambling software supplier GAN to develop its online gambling offering. GAN isn’t really a player in the international online poker software industry. However, it could soon become one, if only to take advantage of Parx’ position as PA’s true home for poker.
In the meantime, Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack is a Caesars Entertainment property. It is home to a World Series of Poker-branded poker room . Something that makes it the obvious home for a WSOP-branded online poker room like the ones in Nevada and New Jersey.
Rivers Casino and SugarHouse Casino are both Rush Street Gaming properties. Subsidiary Rush Street Interactive already runs an online gambling site in New Jersey without online poker.
However, poker rooms at both casinos leverage the popularity of Rush Street’s Poker Night in America TV program to drum up business. Poker Night already has a play-money poker mobile app. Moving into real-money online poker would seem like a logical next step.
PokerStars Mount Airy?
Mount Airy Casino Resort is on the small side, but it apparently has big plans for online poker. The casino has had a partnership in place with leading online poker and gambling company 888 Holdings since 2014. Plus, when it applied for its online gambling license in PA, it reportedly did so claiming online poker giant PokerStars as a partner.
Of course, there are others among the nine applicants whose plans in terms of online poker are not so obvious.
Stadium Casino is still under construction. Therefore, its online poker plans are still under construction as well.
There is a rumor that Valley Forge Casino Resort has a deal in place with online gambling giant GVC Holdings. That would presumably make Valley Forge the home for its partypoker brand in PA. However, Valley Forge officials have yet to confirm anything.
Penn National Gaming has a long standing partnership with online and live gaming developer Scientific Games. However, Scientific Games seems to be into everything except online poker. That leaves some serious questions as to where Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is going with online poker.
Sands’ Sheldon Adelson and online gambling
Finally, Sands owner Sheldon Adelson has worked hard to become the enemy of online poker advocates everywhere. He stands morally opposed to online gambling altogether.
However, Adelson is in the midst of selling out and closing conditions of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem’s $1.3 billion sale to Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ Wind Creek Hospitality is that Sands must apply for a PA online gambling license.
Whether that means there will be a Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem-branded online poker site is a different story.