When Pennsylvania online poker finally launches, it will do so inside a state with much the same size population as the three others that already have legal and regulated online poker combined.
However, the US online poker market won’t exactly double in size. Not yet anyway.
That’s because unlike the three other states, Pennsylvania online poker will be a fenced-in market.
Thanks to New Jersey signing the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement in late 2017, Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware online poker sites can pool players, creating a single US online poker market. Starting in May 2018, players on WSOP.com in Nevada and New Jersey, and the 888 Poker sites operating in New Jersey and Delaware, began competing against one another under this agreement.
Joining the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement
Language in the law authorizing online poker in PA allows Pennsylvania to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. However, it isn’t likely to do so right out of the gate.
In fact, Doug Harbach, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board told Online Poker Report in late August 2018 the state has yet to commit to signing the agreement at all:
“While an interstate compact could certainly occur, at this junction I can’t predict or comment on the likelihood.”
Apparently, the state and its gaming board have bigger priorities, including the emerging sports betting and satellite casino markets. For now, online poker is taking a back seat to other gaming issues in PA.
PA online gambling license applications
At the 11th hour before the July 16, 2018 deadline to apply for a $10 million license to operate online poker, slots, and table games in PA, nine of the state’s 13 casino license holders applied.
In mid-August, the board approved licenses for Parx Casino in Bensalem, Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester, and Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.
Parx runs the state’s top-grossing poker room and its most popular tournament series. Harrah’s Philadelphia is a Caesars Entertainment property, and therefore the likely home for WSOP.com in PA. Mount Airy Casino Resort has struck deals with leading global online poker operators PokerStars and 888.
While these three operators are likely to lead the PA online poker market, they’re still not ready to launch.
The Board still needs to approve the license holders’ online service providers, review internal controls, and test all online poker software and hardware before they can.
No online poker timeline set
No timeline for launch has been set by any operator. However, all signs point to it not happening before the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2019.
Since Harrah’s Philadelphia will presumably join the tri-state WSOP.com/888 network, and Mount Airy will have a New Jersey partner in PokerStars NJ, these two are the most likely to start shared player pool poker if and when PA signs the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. However, that still offers no clear indication if and when it will happen.
In the meantime, the Board has 90 days after the license applications were filed to deal with the six other PA casino license holders who want in the online poker market. These are:
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
- Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
- SugarHouse Casino
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
- Stadium Casino (in development)
That would push the launch of these operators’ online poker products to the fourth quarter of this year at best.
Since then, Mohegan Sun Pocono has applied for a license to operate online poker, slots, and table games in PA. Plus, Presque Isle Downs & Casino applied for a license to operate online slots and table games.
That leaves Meadows Racetrack and Casino and Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin as the only ones not applying.
Meadows is now a Penn National Gaming property, like Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. It is clear it has no plans to go online for now. Similarly, Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin is operated by Churchill Downs, owner of Presque Isle Downs & Casino, making it unlikely to want to launch a competing online casino site immediately.
A lot on the state’s plate
The state clearly has enough on its plate with the launch of all these online gambling sites before it even begins to consider signing the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement.
Additionally, a group of PA casinos recently sued to force the Pennyslvania Lottery to stop offering online games it says are much too similar to online slots. The state will likely want this resolved before it throws these same casinos the shared liquidity bone.
The Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement is open to new states joining and the framework is there for further expansion. Pennsylvania has nothing to lose by joining since state revenue is based on player location.
Adding a state the size of PA would go a long way towards strengthening the US online poker market. It would certainly help improve business in all participating states.
However, PA online poker doesn’t look like its ready to launch until 2019. Plus, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is busy dealing with a whole host of issues surrounding a full-scale gambling expansion. This includes much more than just the launch of online poker.
As a result, Pennsylvania will likely sign an interstate compact eventually. Just not before the market is up, running, and settled in. Leaving the best case scenario for the launch of interstate online poker in PA as the second half of 2019.