Pennsylvania Online Poker Spotlight

888 Poker and WSOP.com powre the poker site for Harrah's Philadelpia

2019 is the year Pennsylvania online poker becomes a full-bore reality. Applicants filed papers for online gaming licenses between October 15 and October 30, and seven applicants now have licenses. To help bettors get a sense of what’s possible in the new iPoker jurisdiction, UsPokerSites provides this Pennsylvania online poker spotlight.

First, let’s start with some of the basics. Governor Tom Wolf signed the omnibus spending bill into law in October 2017. Online poker made the list of approving gambling, along with online casinos and daily fantasy sports. Lawmakers planned for gambling expansion to generate $200 million a year for the Pennsylvania Treasury Department.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) refers to applicants as qualified gaming entities (QGE). Pennsylvanians will encounter the term “QGE” in the coming months (and quotes below), so it bears remembrance. The tax rate on online poker rake and online table games is a nominal 16%. Online slots have a tax rate of 54%.

Applicants must pay $7.5 million for an online casino license, while an online poker license costs another $2.5 million. Most of the applicants decided to pay the full $10 million, but Presque Isle Downs chose not to apply for a poker license.

13 Online Poker Licenses Available

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board created 13 online poker licenses, because the state contains 13 different land-based casinos and racinos. Regulators plan to hand out licenses to out-of-state applicants if any of the 13 licenses go unused.

Kevin O’Toole, the Gaming Control Board’s executive director, filed a motion to process with out-of-state licensing guidelines. The GCB unanimously approved the motion. Afterwards, Kevin O’Toole said, “The seven interactive gaming certificates that remain available may now be awarded to qualified gaming entities, or QGEs.”

“A QGE is defined in the expanded gaming act as a gaming entity licensed in any jurisdiction which has satisfied the requirements set forth in the act and any other criteria established by the board.”

That’s the broad overview. Let’s look at the seven online poker operators we know about at present.

1. Harrah’s Philadelphia Online Poker

Caesars Entertainment owns Harrah’s Philadelphia, so expect its partners to handle the online poker product.  Caesars also owns the World Series of Poker. Expect to see Harrah’s Philadelphia linked to WSOP.com, like it is in New Jersey.

888 Poker installed its platform and handles the day-to-day operations. If you like 888 Poker, you’ll enjoy playing at Harrah’s Philadelphia’s online poker site. Those in the Philadelphia area should remember their online card playing translates to comps in the local land-based casino.

2. Mount Airy Casino Resort Online Poker

Mount Airy Casino Resort signed a deal with PokerStars. That should make Mount Airy Casino, a smaller operation in the northeastern part of the state, the leading online poker site in Pennsylvania. PokerStars dominates any other jurisdiction it’s active in, so players should expect to see Mount Airy’s online card room with the biggest guaranteed prize pools and biggest entry fields.

One thing that could ruin PokerStars’ dominance is the US Justice Department’s opinion on interstate online poker. Pennsylvania might have signed on to the Multi-State Internet Poker Association (MSIGA) otherwise, but that won’t happen now.

Robbing PokerStars of its international shared player liquidity is the real blow. New Jersey had discussed sharing player pools with the United Kingdom, so it was a possibility until the DOJ rendered its opinion in January 2019. Still, the PokerStars/Mount Airy combo should be a key player.

3. Valley Forge Casino Resort

Valley Forge Casino Resort signed a deal with partypoker to host its poker site. GVC Holdings now owns partypoker, while GVC also has a partnership deal with MGM Resorts. An outside chance exists Valley Forge online poker players will get added to the MGM Resorts rewards program.

Another reason exists for that supposition. Boyd Gaming bought Valley Forge Casino last year, and Boyd Gaming has a cordial relationship with MGM Resorts. For five years earlier this decade, the Division of Gaming Enforcement barred MGM Resorts from New Jersey. MGM Resorts turned day-to-day operations of Borgata in Atlantic City over to Boyd Gaming at the time.

When MGM Resorts regained its New Jersey gaming license, MGM and Boyd continued as the co-owners of Borgata for a while. Eventually, MGM Resorts bought back Boyd Gaming’s 50% share of the company. It was lucrative for Boyd Gaming to sell 50% of Borgata, but those kind of deals don’t happen without trust and cordiality.

4. Parx Casino’s Poker Site

Parx Casino in Bensalem (a suburb of Philadelphia) signed partnership deals with GameAccount Network (GAN) and Kambi. GAN and Kambi each focus more on online casinos than online poker, so the plan for Parx Casino’s card site remain vague.

The Bensalem casino could sign with a third partner in the coming year. If not, look for GAN to build a poker platform for the site.

5. Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course

Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course plans an online poker site powered by International Game Technology (IGT). Most people associate IGT with land-based and online slots, but there’s more to the company than slot machines.

IGT supports all of Canada’s state-run online poker websites. As one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, IGT has the knowledge and expertise to run Hollywood Casino’s online poker site. Note that Penn National Gaming also owns Meadows Casino, but it chose not to launch a second poker site.

6. Sands Bethlehem’s Online Casino

You read that right: Sands Bethlehem Resort & Casino applied for an online gaming license. I’ll repeat, Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp has an online poker license. Of course, by the end of the year, Sands Bethlehem will have a new name.

Las Vegas Sands nears completion of its sale of Sands Bethlehem, to Wind Creek Hospitality, the gaming company owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (Alabama). The Poarch Band/Wind Creek Hospitality spent $1.3 billion for the casino, so it plans to spend $10 million of the online gaming license.

LVS sent its lawyers to apply for the casino’s online gaming license, because the sale wasn’t complete. It caused a bit of a spectacle as the lawyer almost apologized for being there. Nevertheless, the PGCB granted the license.

For those new to online gaming, Las Vegas Sands’ founder and CEO, Sheldon Adelson, is the No. 1 opponent of online gambling in America. He spent 5 years lobbying state governments and federal lawmakers to ban online gambling in 50 states. When the US Department of Justice issued its January 2019 decree against interstate online gambling, the DOJ’s opinion borrowed language directly from Adelson’s lobbyists (according to the Washington Post).

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have no such qualms, so it should be a big player in Pennsyvlania online poker.

7. SugarHouse Online Poker Pennsylvania

Finally, we have SugarHouse Casino’s online poker. SugarHouse Casino is a Philadelphia-based casino which is owned by Rush Street Interactive out of Chicago. While Sugarhouse Casino has an online poker license, we don’t know much yet about the owners’ plans.

In the New Jersey online gambling market, SugarHouse Casino dominates the online casino market. Borgata controlled the No. 1 spot for two years, but once SugarHouse launched as a sub-license of Golden Nugget, things changed within 3 months.

The reason was simple: SugarHouse signed deals with the biggest slots providers. New Jersey players flocked to SugarHouse because it had online slots from IGT, Konami, Bally Technologies, and WMS Gaming. The company’s huge success in New Jersey tells us SugarHouse will probably focus on online casinos instead of online poker. Currently, that isn’t certain, so stay tuned for updates.

Pennsylvania Online Poker Spotlight

As we get fresh news on the Pennsylvania Online Poker scene, we’ll provide updates. As a reminder, two Pennsylvania casino operators did not apply for online gambling licenses: Lady Luck Casino and Meadows Casino. That means at least two out-of-state online poker operators might work inside Pennsylvania.

Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for more than a decade. He worked for Small World Marketing for years, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. He's covered US and international gambling news on BestOnlineCasinos.com, USPokerSites.com, and LegalUSPokerSites.com since 2014.

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