Poker lovers in Pennsylvania have a cause for celebration today, just as they did on this date two years ago. The anxiously awaited launch of PokerStars PA on Nov. 4, 2019 effectively ended an 8.5-year drought of online poker in the Keystone State.
In April 2011, Black Friday halted the online poker gravy train in the U.S. States like Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware got legal internet poker back in 2013. That was not the case for the rest of the country, though most would not have predicted just how long the wait would be.
PokerStars PA changes the game
Online poker players in the Keystone State made do with live poker offerings, while others migrated next door to NJ for the online grind (or traveled there to play in particular series). Still others mostly just gave up the game they loved and enjoyed for so long before the bottom fell out.
With the debut of legal online poker in Pennsylvania, many players including PokerStars PA ambassadors Keith Becker and Mark Foresta, re-fell in love with the game. (Watch our special two-year anniversary interview with Becker and Foresta below.)
Just how has PokerStars managed to stay on top, and how do they plan to continue to do so? What challenges has PokerStars faced in the legal US online poker markets? We asked PokerStars Associate Director of Group Public Relations Rebecca McAdam Willetts and Tom Bostic, Poker Operations Manager of PokerStars US for their insights.
What have been the biggest challenges for PokerStars in the US?
Rebecca McAdam Willetts: In single state liquidities, we’re not able to leverage scale and reach as we would elsewhere to offer the same variety and prize pools some of our community see in other parts of the world where there is shared liquidity.
We must think differently about what online poker looks like given the liquidity we have, which is our greatest challenge but also our greatest strength. It forces us to be agile, creative, and not afraid of taking risks. Fortunately, we have a long and rich history, a company filled with decades of industry experience and an engaged community who speak with us and inspire us to improve and create. Everywhere we operate benefits from that.
We want to create the best poker experience, and reward and entertain like no other poker site. We also want to ensure we’re appealing to those who show up day after day and seek a seamless, rewarding and high-quality experience, while speaking to those who may consider poker so we can continue to grow the game we all love for the benefit of all players.
Two years in, what have been the most important lessons PokerStars has learned in the PA market?
Tom Bostic: Pennsylvania has a thriving poker community. It is the country’s second-largest gaming market with more than a dozen brick and mortar casinos, three online poker operators and active online communities as seen on Discord and Twitch. The appetite for poker remains strong beyond the launch of PokerStars PA, with the PA Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP) most recently generating over $2,000,000 in prize pools from 25,000 entries across 69 events.
We also have some incredible players, many of whom exhibit results and a level of skill that can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. We knew that Pennsylvanian poker fans were eager for online poker to reach the state, but it has been amazing to see the excitement and engagement from those new to poker and regulars to the felt.
Pennsylvanian poker players are not to be underestimated!
Stateside, PokerStars has sites in New Jersey and Michigan too, but prize pools are generally biggest in PA. Why do you think that is and how has the approach been different across these markets?
Tom Bostic: Pennsylvania inherently has advantages over the other two US liquidities due to its population of 12.8 million compared to New Jersey (8.9 million) and Michigan (10 million). With a larger player base Cash Games, Sit-and Go’s and Spin-and-Go’s are able to run at greater frequencies and tournament prize pools are comparatively increased.
We are focused on addressing each US liquidity separately with tailored offerings for each, as reflected in the formats we offer, the stake level options and associated guarantees for individual and promotional events.
Now that there is more online poker competition in PA, how has PokerStars been able to maintain its No. 1 position?
Tom Bostic: By investing in the growth of the market, by making continuous improvements to our offering, and through our dedication to our players and their feedback. PokerStars is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and in the recently established US liquidities, we’re building on our foundations as online poker’s most recognizable name with a player-focused approach that has been demonstrated throughout our history.
Are there any exciting plans in the works that PA players can look forward to from PokerStars in the next year?
Tom Bostic: We are continuously hunting for opportunities to foster poker’s overall growth and create superior experiences for our Pennsylvania players. Without getting into any specifics, in 2022 players can expect greater rewards, more variety in our offering as well as a few surprises down the road.
PokerStars PA still on top
Online poker remains a relatively small portion of iGaming revenue in Pennsylvania, but its contribution to state and local taxes over time is significant. In its first year and 11 months, online poker sites in PA have claimed revenue of over $64 million, with over $10 million going to state and local entities (taxed at 16%).
PokerStars’ revenue in its first two years (minus October 2021) totals $60.4 million. After being the first to launch, PokerStars was the only legal site in PA for well over a year before BetMGM and Borgata joined in April 2021. WSOP.com followed in mid-July. At this point, PokerStars appears to be holding strong to its dominant market position.
In September 2021, PokerStars represented two-thirds of total PA online poker revenue. WSOP was second with 21% and the partypoker network accounts for the remaining 12%.
Tournament series with prize pools north of $2 million are becoming the norm. Even one-off tournaments like the popular Pennsyl-MANIA events regularly draw over 1,000 entries and prize pools over $300,000.
Unsurprisingly, the record events took place in the early weeks of pandemic shutdowns when the entire online poker (and casino) industry got a boost in traffic and revenue.
Top 5 PokerStars PA series
|PokerStars Series||Date||Guarantee||Total Events||Total Entries||Total Prize Pool|
|PASCOOP||April 2020||$2 million||100||79,892||$3,232,461|
|PASCOOP||April/May 2021||$2.1 million||123||48,257||$2,642,486|
|PACOOP||Sept. 2021||$2 million||69||25,500||$2,378,1512|
|PACOOP||Sept./Oct. 2020||$1.5 million||50||21,326||$2,039,133|
|Bounty Builder (PKO)||Feb./March 2021||$1.675 million||75||35,673||$2,012,204.25|
Top 5 Pennsyl-MANIA events
|Date||Buy-In||Guarantee||Total Entries||Prize Pool||Winner (Prize)|
|May 2020||$200||$250,000||2,774||$515,964||D-Low1527 ($69,671)|
|Aug. 2020||$200||$350,000||2,026||$376,836||SlotWinna777 ($44,642)|
|Dec. 2020||$200||$500,000||2,309||$500,000*||PokerAnomoly ($74,148)|
|Apr. 2021||$300||$400,000||1,416||$413,280||throwitinthebag ($63,084)|
|Oct. 2021||$300||$350,000||1,130||$350,000**||Paulie_Card$ ($56,237)|
Pennsylvania: A key market for future US poker growth
As Bostic and McAdam Willetts emphasized, the PA poker market should not be underestimated. A large population combined with a strong appetite for online poker and a rich tradition of live poker in the state and in surrounding areas like Atlantic City, make PA prime ground for a healthy market.
When PokerStars can take advantage of shared liquidity across states like PA, MI, NJ and others, its foothold in Pennsylvania will prove invaluable for the next phase of online poker growth in the U.S.