Slow Play: Poker Launch in PA Targeted for May or Sooner

Written By Martin Harris on February 8, 2021 - Last Updated on August 17, 2023
WSOP PA Targeting May or Sooner Launch

In late September 2020, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved the application of Caesars‘ online poker partner 888 Holdings for an interactive gaming manufacturer license.

That news appeared to herald the imminent launch of Pennsylvania. However, more than four months later poker players in the Keystone State are still waiting.

Now it appears the wait will continue for at least a few more months, perhaps until May or later. That’s what 888 Holdings Senior Vice President Yaniv Sherman indicated in an interview with Pokerfuse late last week.

888 hopes for PA launch before 2021 WSOP

Asked about when PA might launch, Sherman, the Head of U.S. Operations for 888, said the company is “working hard to go live the first half of the year, hopefully sooner.”

He then alluded to the potential return of the World Series of Poker to Las Vegas this summer as potentially meaningful for the PA timeline.

Last year the COVID-19 pandemic forced the WSOP to move its in-person tournament summer series online before ending the year with an ersatz Main Event. Sherman explained the company hopes to launch PA before the 2021 WSOP. The series typically runs from late May to mid-July.

If the site were to launch by then, players in Pennsylvania could conceivably start competing for WSOP online bracelets.

Sherman referenced last month’s ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals invalidating the US Department of Justice‘s opinion of the Wire Act of 1961 as a favorable development for incorporating Pennsylvania (and potentially other states) into multi-state agreements.

“Any way that Caesars would want to schedule [the WSOP], typically in mid-year, they want to run the [online] tournaments,” he said. “So we are trying to meet that timeline.”

Looking ahead to new platform rollout, other states

Sherman discussed other 2021 plans for 888 as well. However he maintained the launch of PA remains a top priority.

Other goals for the near future include continuing to pursue the licensing process in Michigan. Both online gambling and online poker finally launched in MI in January. West Virginia, another state that has legalized online gambling, could be on the horizon as well.

Sherman also discussed 888’s plan soon to debut a new platform called Poker 8. The platform will significantly update both the desktop and mobile versions of the client.

It sounds as though the company hopes to be able to launch PA on the new platform. In fact, Poker 8 will likely debut with the new Pennsylvania site before being introduced elsewhere.

PA players’ wait continues despite hints of impending launch

When Pennsylvania regulators approved 888 Holdings’ interactive gaming manufacturer license last fall, it appeared initially as though PA could launch before the end of the year.

However a Caesars representative confirmed to PlayPennsylvania in October that there would be no launch until 2021 at the earliest.

Players had been hoping the site would go live at the start of 2021. Their optimism had been stoked in part by promotional emails and sightings of the Harrah’s Philadelphia logo on the website.

Another hint that PA could arrive soon came in early January when the WSOP announced its 2021 WSOP Online Circuit Series.

The yearlong series consists of 12 separate tournament series happening once per month throughout 2021. Players on Nevada and New Jersey can take part in the tournaments which award WSOP Circuit rings to winners.

The announcement noted the WSOP might add a 13th tournament series to the schedule “pending launch of the WSOP.COM service in a newly regulated market.”

More online poker sites coming to PA

Clearly Pennsylvania is the market being referenced in the announcement. However it appears PA players are going to have wait a bit longer before goes live in their state.

PokerStars PA launched in November 2019 and remains the only online poker site in Pennsylvania.

But others are sure to follow. Besides, poker players in PA can also look forward to a BetMGM poker app, GGpoker PA, and more. An 888 Poker PA site is also not out of the question, but there have been no plans announced on that just yet.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/John Locher

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Martin Harris

Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. In 2019, his book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books.

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