The first-ever World Series of Poker Online tournament series is well underway on WSOP.com. There have been a number of interesting stories to emerge from the series already.
Forced by the coronavirus pandemic to scrap a plan to feature over 100 bracelet events both live and online, the WSOP chose to move its annual series entirely to the virtual tables. The WSOP Online series includes 85 events, the first 31 of which are being played once per day every day in July on WSOP.com. The remaining 54 events start July 19 and take place on the international site GGPoker (not available to US players).
Working in partnership with 888, WSOP.com currently operates online poker rooms in three states — Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. An interstate compact between the three states enables WSOP.com to share player pools from each state. However, only players playing on WSOP NV or WSOP NJ can play in WSOP Online series events.
WSOP Online winners earning big prizes, attention for storylines
That means players must be physically located within either Nevada or New Jersey to play in the WSOP.com bracelet events. Each event begins at 3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. EST and, other than the turbo events, most last 11-12 hours, meaning they aren’t finishing until 2-3 a.m. in NV and 5-6 a.m. in NJ.
Despite that limitation, there have still been some interesting stories to emerge from the two weeks’ worth of one-day tournaments that have played out thus far.
Last week, Ryan “MacDaddy15” McMillen won a $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Max event. He outlasted a 1,026-entry field to win the bracelet and $188,214.57, the biggest first prize of the series up to that point.
Even better, while the 70-year-old McMillen is a veteran of live poker, it was apparently his first-ever online tournament!
On Sunday, the vlogger Ryan “joeyisamuch” Depaulo won The BIG 500 No-Limit Hold’em event, a $500 tournament that saw 2,427 entries. The New Yorker won $159,563.11 for topping that field.
Depaulo drove over to New Jersey to play in the event, which took 12-and-a-half hours to complete. In fact, he played in the tournament in his car from a grocery store parking lot, finishing it as dawn broke and the store was opening up.
Other winners so far have included Nathan Gamble (who won a bracelet in Vegas three years ago), two-time World Poker Tour champion Alan Goehring and 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen.
McKeehen won his third career bracelet Tuesday night in the $3,200 High Roller event. That is the largest buy-in of any of the WSOP Online series events on WSOP.com. McKeehen won $352,985.34 for besting the 496-entry field.
Pennsylvania players wait for WSOP.com launch
A Pennsylvania native, McKeehen also had to travel in order to participate in the WSOP.com series. However, one day McKeehen and other Pennsylvania players might be able to play for WSOP online bracelets without having to leave home.
That day might come sooner rather than later. That’s because the WSOP is already in the process of obtaining regulatory approval to launch a site in the Keystone State.
Since early November 2019, PokerStars PA has enjoyed an online poker monopoly as the state’s only site. PokerStars operates in Pennsylvania through a partnership with the land-based Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono.
As the only option for players, PokerStars PA has enjoyed a surge of traffic over the spring and summer months, not least because of COVID-19 having forced the closure of brick-and-mortar poker rooms in the state since mid-March. By this Friday, all 12 of the state’s casinos will have reopened, albeit at limited capacity. However, in all cases, the casinos’ poker rooms remain closed per recommendations from CDC and the PA Department of Health.
In late May, Doug Harbach of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) confirmed to PlayPennsylvania that an online poker application from Caesars (which owns the WSOP) is currently pending. While no timeline has been made public, once regulators complete their review of the application, the PGCB will make its decision.
Other online poker sites soon to challenge PokerStars in PA
Pennsylvania passed a gambling expansion bill in 2017. Soon after, seven PA casinos acquired the $10 million license enabling them to operate online casino games, including online poker. In addition to Mount Airy, the other six casinos licensed to operate online poker rooms in the state (pending PGCB approval) are:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Parx Casino and Racing
- Rivers Casino Philadelphia (formerly SugarHouse)
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
- Wind Creek Bethlehem (formerly Sands Casino Resort)
WSOP.com already has a candidate for a land-based partner in Caesars-owned Harrah’s Philadelphia. In April, Caesars also launched an online sportsbook and online casino in PA, further establishing WSOP.com as a probable frontrunner to launch online poker in the state.
Another likely candidate to launch in the state in the near future, perhaps as soon as August, is partypoker. The partypoker platform is owned by GVC Holdings which, with MGM, jointly owns ROAR Digital. ROAR currently operates the partypoker NJ site. ROAR may have its license to operate in Pennsylvania approved by the PGCB as early as August 5.
Interstate compacts needed for PA players to play for online bracelets
Of course, should WSOP.com launch in Pennsylvania, another step will have to be taken for players in the state to be able to compete for WSOP online bracelets. Pennsylvania will still need to forge an interstate compact with other states in which WSOP.com operates.
In late 2018, a revised opinion of the 1961 Wire Act emanating from the Department of Justice made some states less eager to explore the idea of sharing liquidity for their online poker rooms via interstate agreements.
The revised opinion suggested the law prohibits all types of gambling conducted across state lines (and not just sports betting). However, a US District Court in New Hampshire subsequently rejected that revised opinion in 2019.
The DOJ is currently mounting an appeal to try to reverse that lower court decision. In the interim, enforcement of the new DOJ opinion of the Wire Act has been delayed. Even so, the prospect of the case’s outcome has understandably slowed momentum for more states to enter interstate compacts for online poker.
Experienced poker players well understand that patience is a much-needed attribute for winning. Pennsylvania poker players are hoping their patience with regard to online options — and perhaps the ability to play for WSOP bracelets — will eventually be rewarded.
Lead image via Ryan Depaulo’s Twitter page (@depaulo_ryan).