Projected Pennsylvania Online Poker Timeline

Martin Derbyshire September 16, 2017 1652 Reads
Casino Poker in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania appears poised to pass a new law legalizing and regulating online poker. This would make it the fourth US State to enact such legislation, behind Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. After some relatively lengthy legislative processes, these states all passed similar online gambling legislation dating as far back as 2012.

Now, what the experience in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey has proven, is that people in Pennsylvania won’t likely be able to play online poker the morning after the legislation passes. It’s going to take more than just the flip of a switch to get things going.

In fact, it will likely take a few months before any Pennsylvania online poker sites are up and running.

With the experience in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey behind them, online poker operators will have likely streamlined their own processes and be ready to launch in this new market sooner rather than later. However, there will still be a few regulatory hoops for them to jump through before they’ll be ready to open up to players in the Keystone state.

Looking back at the timeline from passing legislation to market launch in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey may give some clue as to when the market in Pennsylvania can be expected to launch.

In December 2011, the US Department of Justice released a legal opinion that Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting. This paved the way for individual states to begin to consider online lottery sales, and ultimately, online poker as well. In 2012, the first real online gambling legislation was passed.

Delaware

In the summer of 2012, the tiny state of Delaware, second smallest in the United States after Rhode Island, became the first to pass online gambling legislation. A day later, Delaware lawmakers added online poker to the mix.

At the time, lawmakers figured the Delaware lottery would have things up and running in six months. A year later, there was still no online gambling in Delaware.

Regulators were starting from the ground up, and were never likely to make that six-month deadline. They ultimately partnered with more experienced players in 888 Holdings and Scientific Games for software. And they missed some deadlines along the way, claiming they didn’t have the time to create a suitable framework.

Nevada gets there first

Nevada got to market first surprising the country with the launch of Station Casino’s Ultimate Poker in April 2013.

The Delaware online gambling market officially opened on November 8, 2013, with sites operated through the state’s three horse tracks. This includes Dover Downs, Delaware Park, and Harrington Raceway. These sites offered a variety of Poker, Blackjack, Roulette, Video Slots and Video Poker games. The market started small and hasn’t grown much in its first four years.

However, Delaware did sign an agreement with Nevada in 2015, allowing online poker sites in the two states to share player pools.

Allowing the state lottery rather than experienced gambling operators to implement its online gambling plan likely added to the length of time from when the legislation passed to the market launch. Being a regulated online gambling Guinea pig of sorts certainly didn’t help either.

If Pennsylvania does as expected, allows its existing gaming board to oversee online gambling, and its 12 casinos to apply for the first online gambling licenses, the process to get up and running should take much less time than the 17 months it did in Delaware.

Nevada

In late 2011, Nevada gaming regulators began putting together regulations for online gambling in the state. State lawmakers wanted to be prepared if and when the federal government made it legal for states to authorize online gambling. However, even the DOJ’s December 2011 opinion that Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting couldn’t speed up the legislative process in Nevada.

In fact, it wasn’t until February 25th, 2013 that online gambling became legal and regulated in Nevada. That’s when Nevada lawmakers signed AB 114 into law. The bill authorized the issue of online poker operator licenses across Nevada. Any online casino licenses have yet to be issued in the state.

After Delaware, Nevada was the second state in history to legalize online poker. However, Nevada’s Ultimate Poker, an offshoot of land-based local gaming giant Station Casinos, became the first site to offer real-money licensed and regulated online poker games in the United States when it launched at the end of April 2013.

A rush to market?

That may have been a bit of a rush to market, however, as the site ceased operations about a year and a half later. Real Gaming has since launched a competing online poker room affiliated with the South Point Casino.

Caesars Interactive Entertainment launched its World Series of Poker-branded online poker site in Nevada in September 2013 and it has endured. Real Gaming has since launched a competing online poker room affiliated with the South Point Casino, and although it is a small one, it is still around.

The WSOP site had already been running overseas with software provided by 888 Holdings. The product must have been ready to go, but Caesars was unable to get the site to market in Nevada as fast as Ultimate Poker because of efforts to perfect is geolocation software and ensure only players inside the state could access the site.

With those issues out of the way, an experienced operator like WSOP might be ready to launch in Pennsylvania immediately. It might take more than two months for the state to put the regulatory framework in place to get the market up and running. However, the Nevada experience shows that Pennsylvania may be ready to go from passing legislation to market launch in a period of anywhere from two to six months.

New Jersey

New Jersey passed legislation authorizing the issue of online gaming licenses in 2013, about a week after Nevada. The big difference is New Jersey was ready to license both online poker and casino sites.

The first online casino and poker sites soft-launched in November 2013 with the full launch happening on  November 25.

The market included WSOP and 888 sites sharing player pools as well as a similar Borgata and partypokerNJ network. Ultimate Poker was also a player in the early days but has since shut down. Betfair also started a poker site it has since abandoned.

New players enter the market

Close to two and a half years after the market launched, worldwide online poker giant PokerStars were allowed to enter the market and did so in the Spring of 2016. It has since become the online poker market leader in the state.

Pala and playMGM also launched brand new poker sites in the summer of 2017. Pala Poker is a standalone site. However, playMGM poker is a part of the Borgata/partypokerNJ network.

Online gambling revenues have risen steadily to the point where they are now averaging about $20 million a month. However, online poker remains a relatively small percentage of that. In fact, New Jersey online poker revenues average close to $2 million a month. Poker only represents 10 percent of the overall New Jersey online gambling market.

It’s a small, but enduring market with room to grow.

The time from passing legislation to market launch in New Jersey was about six months. The combination of experienced regulators and operators appears to have helped create a solid regulatory framework and workable market. Pennsylvania would do well to follow the New Jersey example and as a result, a similar timeline is expected.