Pennsylvania became the fourth US state to legalize online poker when PA lawmakers passed a comprehensive gambling expansion bill in October 2017.
Legal and regulated online poker is coming to the PA online gambling market sometime in 2018. However, potential players still have a number of questions. How will this new online poker market work? Exactly what will it will look like?
Here’s a look at six questions players have about PA online poker:
1. How is online poker legal in PA?
The US Department of Justice released a legal opinion that the Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting back in December 2011. This was supposed to pave the way for individual states to begin to consider online lottery sales.
However, several states decided it also opened the door to online poker and online casino games.
Only Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey had legalized and regulated online poker in the years since. However, Pennsylvania became the fourth US state to legalize online poker.
The state has begun the process of accepting applications for online poker licenses. Once the licenses are issued and online poker sites open up, they will be required to ensure all players are of legal age and inside state lines when playing.
2. Who will own the PA online poker sites?
The state’s existing 12 casinos are being offered the chance to apply for a license to operate online poker sites first. The licenses will cost $4 million each. However, PA casinos are also welcome to apply for a license for online poker, online slots, and online table games that will cost $10 million.
If any of the 12 online poker licenses remain unclaimed following the first 90-day period they are offered, companies from outside the Pennsylvania casino industry will be allowed to apply for them.
PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker site, has said it aims to be among the first operators to launch in Pennsylvania. However, it remains unclear if it will partner with an existing PA casino to do so, or wait for an unclaimed license to become available.
Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack is a Caesars Entertainment property. Caesars also owns and operates the World Series of Poker-branded online poker rooms in New Jersey and Nevada and has expressed an interest in the PA online poker sites market.
Leading live poker operators in PA, including Parx Casino and SugarHouse Casino, are also favorites to want to enter the market at launch.
3. Who will be able to play?
At launch, PA online poker sites will be required by law to ensure all players are located inside state lines and be 21 years of age or older. They will use geolocation software and ID verification to ensure it. However, the sites may let visitors from out-of-state play in demo or play-money modes.
This means the PA online poker market will begin with a fence around it.
However, Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey recently struck an agreement to share online poker player pools between all three of those states. Online gambling laws in Pennsylvania do allow for the state to join that agreement in the future.
This would mean playing in the same poker games with players from all four states. But for now, it’s PA only.
4. Is online poker rigged?
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will license and regulate all PA online poker operators. This kind of oversight is in place to ensure the fairness of all PA online poker games.
The software employed will also be subject to testing procedures ensuring fairness.
Online poker operators use random number generators to ensure the random nature of each card dealt. These also will be tested. Plus, the sites are expected to employ online poker security experts to police players trying to cheat or collude.
Additionally, it is expected that most online poker rooms in PA will be operated by land-based casinos in the state. That means the same level of integrity live and online.
5. Will I be able to satellite into live events at a nearby poker room?
Online poker sites around the world have found great success running online satellites into live events. Even in New Jersey and Nevada, some of the most successful online tournaments have been the ones offering entry into live events at live casinos in those states.
Parx operates the top-grossing poker room in the state. Plus, it runs Pennsylvania’s largest and most successful live poker tournament series. The Parx Big Stax poker tournament series has run five times annually since February 2013.
There’s little doubt running online satellites into these live events would help them grow even bigger.
Harrah’s Philadelphia is likely to launch a World Series of Poker-branded online poker rooms in PA. WSOP sites in New Jersey and Nevada have successfully run satellites into WSOP events and local WSOP Circuit events since those markets launched.
A WSOP site in PA will surely follow that same path.
6. When can I start playing?
There’s no firm timeline for the launch of online poker in Pennsylvania. However, New Jersey took about nine months from passing legislation to launching regulated online poker sites.
Pennsylvania will surely benefit from New Jersey’s experience in setting up the market. Plus, Pennsylvania’s fiscal year ends in June. The government would prefer to get the licensing fees on the books before that happens.
For all those reasons, it’s a good bet the first PA online poker sites will be up and running in the early part of the second half of 2018.