The legal online poker market in the US could use an injection of excitement. This week’s news of Phil Galfond’s Run It Once site preparing to launch in legal poker states fits the bill.
On March 2, Galfond announced on Twitter that RIO is joining forces with the parent company of BetRivers to gain US access.
Run It Once Poker’s platform and team, myself included, were acquired by Rush Street Interactive (RSI), with the plan to solidify, enhance, and integrate our software into their platform.
Rush Street Interactive ($RSI) has a vast presence in Pennsylvania with Rivers Casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia plus the BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse online casino and sportsbook apps. And with PA being the most populous state with legal online poker, it is likely a key destination for Run It Once.
What the Run It Once and Rush Street deal means for PA
The deal is worth $5.8 million altogether ($3.3 million in cash and $2.5 million in stock), Rush Street announced during their Q4 and 2021 earnings call. While not many other details have been disclosed, we can venture some guesses as to what it could mean for Pennsylvania poker players.
As of now, PA is home to four online poker sites across three networks:
Rush Street’s iGaming license holder is Rivers Casino Philadelphia, under which the Borgata Poker app operates. But there’s room for more. PA gaming regulations allow for multiple skins or brands under each license, so there shouldn’t be an issue with adding Run It Once.
“The only question is whether the deal between the companies contains any provisions that might make this difficult,” Alex Weldon of OnlinePokerReport reported.
The exact terms of the RIO-Rush Street deal are yet to be announced. As is the timeline, but the hard work of securing a licensed partner with online betting products live in eight states (and market access in a growing number of future states) is a huge hurdle down.
It will likely take some time to get software integrated. Additionally, Run It Once will need to get all the necessary approvals from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to become an approved interactive gaming service provider before going live.
Path to the US legal online poker market
Galfond had already revealed plans for bringing his proprietary online poker product to the US market. After launching Run It Once on a global stage in February 2019, Galfond shut down Rest of World operations on Jan. 3. He explained the moves in a Dec. 30 blog post.
“With traffic having dwindled below pre-pandemic levels after all of the progress we’d made, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to break through and reach the volume we needed to, just by completing our platform and doing a bit more marketing. The hill was too steep. It was going to take a lot more.
“If we wanted Run It Once Poker to survive so that it could hopefully, one day, thrive, we needed to do something differently. I hear that in business, they call this a pivot!”
That pivot, it turns out, was fully focusing on entering the legal US market.
“[Entering the legal and regulated US market] has been a dream of mine since well before we first launched. I didn’t initially think it would be an option for us for another half-decade, so I’m very excited to be on our way to achieving it!”
Where else might Run It Once launch?
Other potential initial destinations for the US-facing Run It Once poker site include New Jersey and Michigan, as well as Illinois and New York (pending passage of iGaming legalization).
New Jersey should be an easy one. It’s the only state where BetRivers operates that is part of the interstate poker compact. The competition might be a challenge since online poker has been live there since 2013 and there are already six sites.
Michigan and Pennsylvania are larger markets in terms of population. And while both are also ring-fenced for now, there has been some movement towards compacting. Either way, they will both most likely be high-priority destinations for RIO. The soon-to-launch Ontario, Canada market is another potential landing place, Weldon points out.
What to expect from Run It Once Poker PA
In his twitter announcement, Galfond said:
RIO Poker created a platform that people loved, with features and innovations that the poker world was excited about, but we also heard things like “if only they could iterate on their software faster” or “I’d move all my volume to RIO if they were bigger.”
Well, now we are bigger – much bigger. And now we add to our existing tech team the expertise and experience of those who have built huge poker platforms in the past. I’m extremely excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish together!
With the all-important step of securing a license partner with a presence in key legal online poker states, Galfond is closing in on his dream of bringing RIO to US soil. And Pennsylvania poker players are likely to be some of the first to reap the benefits.