WSOP officials confirmed to USPoker Wednesday that they are in the process of getting regulatory approval to join the online poker market in Pennsylvania. So far, just one operator has offered a poker product in the Keystone State, with PokerStars enjoying 100 percent market share since launching in November, 2019.
It appears that PokerStars PA is soon in for some friendly competition. The only real questions that remain for PA poker’s next growth phase is when will another operator join, and which operator will be next?
What is certain now is that WSOP.com is in the running to become the second online poker site to go live in the Keystone State. While the exact timeline remains unclear, Doug Harbach of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board confirmed to PlayPennsylvania that Caesar’s online poker application is pending.
He added that there’s no certain date for “when background work will be finished” so it can go to the Board for a decision.
Online poker in PA, a one-pony show to date
Online poker got the green light in Pennsylvania as part of the 2017 gambling expansion bill (H 271). Seven PA casinos acquired a license to operate online poker, most as a package deal. A $10 million license included poker, online slots, and table games, while the other option was to purchase individual vertical licenses separately for $4 million each.
But so far, only PokerStars PA, launched in partnership with land-based casino Mount Airy, has gone live. And that was in November 2019.
The following PA casinos are also licensed to operate online poker rooms in the state, pending PGCB approval:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Valley Forge
- Hollywood Casino
- Wind Creek
PokerStars has undoubtedly enjoyed its position as lone operator in the state, posting strong numbers each month and continuing to grow in popularity. Their revenue peaked in April at $5.3 million, a monthly online poker record for any US state. Traffic got a bump of course from statewide shutdown orders limiting live gaming options.
But PokerStars’ PA poker monopoly has an expiration date. It’s just a matter of when.
Why the slow online poker start in PA?
No one can blame PA operators for placing higher priority on launching online sports betting and online casino sites, which have higher revenue potential than poker. Additionally, PA remains a ring-fenced market for online poker, meaning it can’t share player pools with other regulated US states.
The main reason for this hangup in PA derives from a late 2018 DOJ Wire Act opinion. The PGCB reacted by requiring standalone servers in PA, so as to avoid online gambling transactions crossing state lines.
But the additional requirement threw a wrench into the iGaming plans of many in Pennsylvania. It also threw a cloud over a sunny outlook of PA potentially sharing liquidity with New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.
WSOP.com and partypoker clear frontrunners for next PA launch
As mentioned, any of six additional casinos in the Commonwealth are legally allowed to offer online poker. But few are anywhere near ready to launch. From the start, there have been two frontrunners to be the first to join PokerStars.
WSOP.com is a natural fit. The site, in partnership with international poker giant 888, already operates in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. As a division of Caesars Entertainment, it has an automatic land-based partner in Harrah’s Philadelphia.
Caesars also just recently launched both an online sportsbook and online casino in Pennsylvania, making online poker a logical next step. Add to that live poker closures pushing major poker events online, and WSOP.com has plenty of incentive to get going in another US state.
Asked about their plans to enter PA, WSOP.com officials declined comment to PlayPennsylvania. “No comment at this time while we are undergoing regulatory approval.”
So this much we know: the wheels are in motion.
The other clear candidate to launch next in PA is partypoker, another international online poker powerhouse. Owned by GVC Holdings, partypoker already operates in neighboring New Jersey and has a partnership with Valley Forge Casino.
More poker options to look forward to in Pennsylvania
Regardless of which site is first, movement towards growing the poker options in PA is good for the market. And for players, it means more promotions, deposit bonuses, and of course more game and tournament options.
An eventual ruling against the aforementioned Wire Act opinion would undoubtedly provide even more motivation for operators to jump into the PA market. But if and when that might happen remains anyone’s guess.
For now, Pennsylvanians will have to settle for looking forward to yet more regulated poker options, all accessible from the comfort and safety of home.