Legal, real-money online poker will be in Pennsylvania sometime in 2019. However, the interactive game did not launch on July 15 with the rest of its online casino brethren.
Frankly, online poker often occupies a lower tier of priority for operators. It simply does not generate the same level of revenue that online casinos and sportsbooks do.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) told Pokerfuse that it could not give solid information about an impending online poker launch in PA. However, there are seven casinos that have their permits in hand, so it’s a matter of operators getting ready, rather than any kind of red tape holdup.
Check back with USPoker regularly, as this situation is fluid and could change rapidly.
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Legal online poker in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania was the fourth US state to legalize online poker. The state legalized it along with a host of other gambling activities in October 2017. Here is a helpful guide for what online poker looks like in the Keystone State.
Until recently, all signs pointed to a 2019 debut of online poker in Pennsylvania. However, the first month of 2019 has yielded a potential setback to those plans.
On Jan. 14, 2019, the US Department of Justice issued an opinion that the Wire Act‘s jurisdiction includes all forms of online gambling, including poker. While this development seems ominous for online poker advocates, several states are likely to litigate against the DOJ for this opinion.
In fact, the DOJ has already suffered a legal setback in this matter. A federal judge in New Hampshire has ruled that state’s lottery commission and a strategic partner are not subject to the new opinion. It remains to be seen how this ruling will influence other court proceedings and/or the DOJ’s future actions.
Potential online poker sites in Pennsylvania
At present, seven of Pennsylvania’s casino interests have moved forward with their online poker aspirations and licensure. They are:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Parx Casino
- Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
All seven have received their conditional approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to proceed with interactive gaming. All except one casino (Sands Bethlehem) should open its online poker sites for business by mid-year.
Each of the six active casinos has partnered with various poker providers to bring online poker to life. Each company’s choice of partner illustrates the prominence of online poker in its plans.
Harrah’s is an immediate frontrunner for the top spot in the market. The Philadelphia-area casino is part of Caesars Entertainment, which also owns and produces the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Using a platform fashioned by partner 888Poker, Harrah’s will be the stop for Pennsylvanians who want a chance to play in the Main Event. It is also likely that Harrah’s will merge the Pennsylvania player pool with the shared pool from Nevada and New Jersey.
Mount Airy Casino Resort
Mount Airy may be the big winner in Pennsylvania. The casino enacted quite the coup by snagging a partnership with PokerStars.
PokerStars has risen from the ashes of the UIGEA to become the market leader of online poker in New Jersey. Its smooth software and recreational player-friendly bent should find similar success in Pennsylvania.
Mount Airy is not a major live poker destination by any means — its nine-table poker room is the second smallest of the casinos which offer poker. So, its decision to pursue the online poker market so strongly comes as a bit of a surprise.
Valley Forge Casino
Valley Forge is in a unique situation because it has approval for online poker but no strategic partner. However, do not be deceived: Valley Forge’s partner is all but decided already.
There have been interactions between the casino and PartyPoker since at least 2015. Although the situation for PartyPoker in America was rough for a time, the company has emerged as another strong poker option.
Even more importantly, PartyPoker is now the property of GVC. In return, GVC is a strategic partner with MGM Resorts. Resorts, in turn, has an access agreement with Boyd Gaming. Boyd purchased Valley Forge in September 2018.
So, there is a circular quality to the road joining Valley Forge and PartyPoker together. Nevertheless, a deal for Pennsylvania between the two companies seems likely in the next few months.
While not in the same pole position as is Harrah’s, Mount Airy or Valley Forge, Hollywood Casino may be part of the first wave of casinos with online poker. The casino’s parent, Penn National, has a longstanding relationship with software developer IGT.
IGT is not as well-known for its poker products as it is for its slot machine design. However, it is not a neophyte when it comes to the creation of a poker platform. In fact, all of Canada’s state-operated poker sites are powered by IGT software.
The only hesitation about Penn National has been the company’s seeming desire to be first in sports betting. The casino group has won the race to be first-to-market for sports betting in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
So, Penn’s attention may be elsewhere right now. Otherwise, everything looks pretty good to go for online poker’s launch at Hollywood Casino.
On paper, Parx would seem to be leading the charge into the online poker market in Pennsylvania. The casino is the unabashed market leader on the land-based side of things.
Even more appealingly, Parx has strategic partnerships with not one, but two software partners. Both GAN and Kambi have signed deals to assist the Bensalem casino’s transition into the virtual sphere.
However, neither GAN or Kambi are particularly experienced or regarded as poker providers. If anything, the two companies have a stronger reputation in other casino gaming and sports betting.
So, it’s a bit unclear if Parx has a big appetite for online poker or not.
SugarHouse is another casino in a similar situation to the one at Parx. It does have a strategic partner and its approval to offer online poker.
However, its partner has the same lack of experience as Parx’s partners. In fact, its partner is also Kambi, which means that there is no background in online poker to be found.
SugarHouse has also made its priorities and attention clear through its actions and statements. At this point, the Philadelphia-area casino is far more interested in getting its sports betting operation off the ground.
So, SugarHouse and/or its parent company, Rush Street Interactive, may have a way to go before addressing an online poker product.
Lastly, Sands Bethlehem is the most intriguing entry on the approved list. The casino is both without a strategic partner and without any desire to move forward with any sort of online gaming.
Its owner, Sheldon Adelson, may be the most prominent opponent of online gaming in the US. However, Sands Bethlehem is in the middle of a sales process.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians should become the new owners of Sands Bethlehem in the next six months to a year. Part of its contract with Sands required that Sands acquire permission to offer online poker and gaming.
However, it is safe to say that Sands Bethlehem — or whatever its new name is — will be the last of the seven approved casinos to open an online poker room.
Latest Pennsylvania online gambling updates
Pennsylvania online poker FAQ
Where can I play online poker in Pennsylvania?
Nowhere just yet. However, six of Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos will offer online poker.
How soon will online poker launch in Pennsylvania?
Online poker is scheduled to launch sometime in 2019.
Who will be able to play online poker in Pennsylvania?
Anyone who is older than 21 years of age and inside the state lines will be able to play on any of Pennsylvania’s poker sites.
How will Pennsylvania sites ensure players are physically located in the state?
As with other states, Pennsylvania will require that all sites maintain geolocation software to ensure players are logging into the site from instate. Companies like GeoComply specialize in this kind of software and are incredibly accurate for correctly placing players geographically.
Will Pennsylvania network poker with other states?
Probably. The gaming law expansion in 2017 allowed for interstate player pooling with other states that have online poker. So, potentially, Pennsylvania could join a player pool comprised of Nevada and New Jersey players.
Will players from other states be able to play on Pennsylvania sites?
Possibly. States with interstate compacts with Pennsylvania will allow players to access the same pool of participants, but the recent Wire Act opinion has placed the multi-state compact in doubt.
Will Pennsylvania also allow online casino games?
Yes. In fact, there will be more online casinos than online poker rooms in Pennsylvania. More of the state’s casino interests applied for and have received a permit to offer online slot play and table games.
The law, H-271, was a massive expansion of Pennsylvania’s gaming opportunities and profile. The law made the following offerings (besides online poker) a possibility in the Keystone State:
- 10 mini-casinos
- A specified number of slots and table games
- Must conform to geographic requirements to avoid competition with existing casinos
- Only five licenses awarded so far, and none more are expected
- Alterations to Category 3 casinos
- Removes membership fee,
- Permits more slots via a one-time fee
- Daily fantasy sports
- Online casino games (table games and slots)
- Online lottery sales
- Sports betting
- Contingent upon PASPA‘s dismissal, which occurred in May 2018
- Sports betting launched in November 2018
- Tablet gaming
- Available in authorized areas at specific airports
- Video gambling terminals
- Similar to slot machines
- Available only at specific truck stops