Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Clears Two Senate Committee Votes

Pennsylvania Sets Online Poker Launch Date for this Summer

Pennsylvanians can finally start getting their hopes up for online poker as date has finally been set for sites to flip the proverbial switch and launch their offerings to people in the Commonwealth. The target date, announced in a public meeting of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board this week, is July 15th, just three months away.

The specific mention of the big day came from PGCB executive director Kevin O’Toole at the start of the meeting (skip to the 4:30 mark if you want to hear it for yourself):

Interactive gaming featuring poker, slots, and table game play is a key component in the legislature’s expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania. As part of our regulatory framework regarding interactive gaming, the Board enacted the regulatory requirement to establish a commencement date for the rollout of iGaming.

Staff has reviewed the estimated time that it would take for us and the industry to complete all necessary steps, and it is our view that 90 days would be adequate. Accordingly, I have advised the ten iGaming certificate holders and three iGaming operators that a coordinated go-live period for interactive gaming will commence on July 15, 2019.

O’Toole added that his staff is ready to help operators who will not be able to launch by July 15th.

The Path to Launch

The Pennsylvania legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to legalize online gambling in late October 2017. This, in other words, has been a long time coming.

The thirteen licensed brick-and-mortar casinos were the ones who got first crack at online gaming licenses. There are three separate license: online poker, online table games, and online slots. Each application fee cost $4 million, but casinos that wanted all three could pay $10 million if they submitted their applications by last year’s July 16th deadline.

Nine casinos filed by the deadline, while two, Mohegan Sun Pocono and Presque Isle Downs, submitted late, but they did not apply for a poker license, so the discount did not matter.

Later, Rivers Casino reversed course and decided to focus on sports betting, so it withdrew its applications. Live! Philadelphia Casino, which has set a 2020 opening date, went through some ownership rearrangements and decided against online poker, as well.

That leaves seven casinos that plan to launch online poker sites:

Parx Casino
Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack
Mount Airy Casino Resort
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
SugarHouse Casino
Valley Forge Casino Resort

Three casinos have plans to offer online casino games but not online poker: Live! Philadelphia Casino (also known as Stadium Casino), Presque Isle Downs, and Mohegan Sun. Thus, the “ten iGaming certificate holders” Mr. O’Toole mentioned.

There are also two other potential online poker/gaming operators: MGM and Golden Nugget. Because not all of the available licensing slots were filled, the application process was opened up to “qualified gaming entities” from October 15th through October 31st of last year.

Software Partnerships

Back when Nevada first legalized online poker, the site Ultimate Poker (not to be confused with UltimateBet) decided to develop its own software. It was an interesting choice and it worked… okay. The software certainly was not as robust as existing packages, but it functioned. Ultimate Poker is now defunct and it looks like its strategy of creating its own, proprietary software may be a thing of the past, too.

Nowadays, online-poker licensees team up with established gaming operators who already have tried and tested poker software. Why should Valley Forge, for example, spend all sorts of time and money building its own platform when it can just grab one off the shelf, so to speak, knowing that it will work out of the box? This casino/software provider pairing looks to be happening in Pennsylvania and it doesn’t just help the casinos. Operators who might not otherwise have a chance to break into the market are now able to do so. Let’s take a look at what partnerships look like in the Keystone State right now.

Harrah’s is arguably the most significant partnership. Caesars, its parent company, already partners with 888poker with its WSOP.com brand in both Nevada and New Jersey, plus its three poker sites in Delaware, forming a three-state poker network. There is no reason to think that this same partnership wouldn’t happen in Pennsylvania, eventually creating a much more formidable interstate network.

The aforementioned Valley Forge is joining up with partypoker, owned by GVC Holdings. Partypoker is the Borgata’s online poker provider in New Jersey, as well as that of playMGM, so expect another interstate connection at some point. Whether or not MGM will offer online poker in Pennsylvania remains to be seen.

As for the big dog in the poker world, PokerStars, it has inked a deal with Mount Airy, even though Mount Airy seemed to have a partnership with 888 a few years ago. PokerStars has the second-largest of the three networks in New Jersey.

Other known partnerships include:

Hollywood – IGT
Parx – GAN
SugarHouse – Rush Street Interactive

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