PA Gaming Review: Harrah’s Poker Room Folds, Illegal Slots Seized, Tiz Brings Tidings

Posted on August 28, 2020 - Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Pennsylvania had a mixed bag of big gambling news this week.

Live poker remains unlikely to resume anytime soon, and one card room closed permanently.

An unlicensed slot casino hidden in plain sight was raided and closed, netting 57 illegal machines and more than $67,000 in cash.

And Tiz the Law, the heavy favorite at the Kentucky Derby, has surprising connections to PA despite being a New York horse.

Poker in PA remains strictly online, Harrah’s poker room folds

While all PA casinos have reopened with health safety restrictions in place, with South Philly Race and Sportsbook also opening this week, not so poker rooms. That’s because card-handling, chips and proximity make the game a potential virus spreader.

Now, former Harrah’s Philadelphia cardroom employees have told PlayPennsylvania they were let go and told the poker venue was never reopening. A casino rep declined to comment.

The location was a World Series of Poker room. Harrah’s corporate parent company Caesars Entertainment owns the popular WSOP brand.

Meanwhile, other shuttered poker rooms remain closed, and none has petitioned PA regulators for reopening. But online poker remains a viable option through PokerStars PA, with more sites coming to PA soon.

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Illegal slot venue went unnoticed before recent raid

PA has a largely unaddressed problem with unregulated, untaxed, unlicensed gambling devices — tens of thousands of them.

Josh Shapiro, who is running for re-election as the state’s attorney general, has decided to hold off on enforcement and let either the state Supreme Court or the legislature make a definitive decision on the fate of the unlicensed machines.

That has meanwhile left enforcement to local jurisdictions. In the first large-scale raid on illegal gambling devices since winter, law enforcement last week seized $67,768 in cash and 57 unlicensed slot machines. The 777 Casino operated in a PA strip mall between a dollar store and a pawn shop in tiny Kenhorst Borough, policed by neighboring Reading.

Charges are pending, according to the Berks County District Attorney John Adams.

Tiz the Law has PA heart and soul

Tiz the Law, the horse favored for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5, is a New York horse with a PA training team and numerous shareholding owners from PA.

Trainer Barclay Tagg, assistant trainer Robin Smullen and her niece, exercise rider Heather Smullen, all began their careers with the ponies in Chester County, PA.

Of the 35 people who own a portion of Tiz, seven are from PA.

A Derby win offers Tiz’s trainers a do-over if they then go on to win the Preakness in October.

Tagg and Smullen also trained Funny Cide. That horse won the Derby and Preakness in 2003 but placed third in the Belmont, a race Tiz has already won in this mixed-up racing season.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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