Pennsylvania online poker overview
Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a comprehensive gambling expansion bill that included online poker legislation in October 2017. The bill authorized the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) to put together regulations governing online poker in the state. It also asked the board to begin a licensing application process for potential operators.
As a result, Pennsylvania became the fourth state in US history to legalize online poker. Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey were the first three. All three of those states have since signed an agreement to share player pools. Language in the Pennsylvania online poker legislation will allow it to enter such an agreement in the future.
As of January 2018, the regulatory and licensing process was still ongoing. The state will offer each of Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos the opportunity to apply for one of 12 online poker licenses. Should any of the 12 licenses remain unclaimed, the application process will open up to outside entities.
Pennsylvania online poker laws
The gambling expansion bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on October 30, 2017, is officially known as H 271. It will ultimately govern online poker in the state.
The new law tasked the PGCB with promulgating online poker regulations. It also tasked the board with handing out online poker licenses to qualified applicants. Both processes are still underway in January 2018.
Considering the time the entire regulatory and launch process is likely to take, and the fact the state would like to see online poker licensing fees paid before the end of the fiscal year on July 1, 2018, the first online poker sites should be up and running at the start of the third quarter of 2018.
The licenses will each come with a $4 million licensing fee. However, the board will also be offering online slots and online table gaming licenses to PA’s 12 existing casinos. The casinos can procure all three licenses for a reduced licensing fee of $10 million.
What is or is not legal in Pennsylvania?
Once the first online poker sites get licensed by the state and up and running, it will be legal to play online poker on those sites in Pennsylvania. However, the sites and players will be forced to adhere to specific online poker regulations set by PGCB. As of January 2018, the board was still putting together those regulations. However, they will likely include the following:
- Players must be 21 or older.
- Sites must verify identification.
- Players must be inside state lines to play for real money.
- Sites must verify player location using geolocation software.
- Operators must pay a 16 percent online gambling tax on gross revenue.
Where can I play poker online in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania lawmakers passed online poker legislation in October 2017. However, the regulatory and licensing process was still underway in January 2018, meaning online poker sites have yet to open up inside the state.
PGCB has presumably been hard at work creating the regulations that will ultimately govern the state’s new online poker market.
In the meantime, it has revealed that once those regulations have been finalized, each of the state’s existing 12 casinos will be offered the opportunity to apply for one of 12 online poker licenses. Once the board starts accepting the first applications from the existing casinos, it will have 90 days to approve them.
However, should any of the 12 licenses remain unclaimed, the board will open up the application process to outside entities.
The board is expected to want to get through the entire process by July 1, 2018. Likely because that’s when PA’s 2018-2019 fiscal year ends, and lawmakers would like to get the licensing fees from online poker operators on the books before that time.
Since the board has yet to begin accepting online poker license applications, predicting where they will come from is just speculation at this point. However, all indications are the following players want in the PA online poker market:
In an earnings call following the passage of online poker legislation in PA, the CEO of PokerStars’ parent company, The Stars Group,Raft Ashkenazi said PokerStars aims to be among the first operators to launch in Pennsylvania when the state finally opens its doors to online poker.
The world’s largest online poker site first jumped into the regulated US online poker market in New Jersey in the spring of 2016.
New Jersey online gambling laws dictate operators must be associated with a land-based casino in the state. As a result, PokerStars operates under the Resorts AC online gambling license there. Mohegan Sun manages Resorts. It also owns and operates Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino and racetrack in PA.
Clearly, this makes Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs the most likely casino partner for PokerStars in PA. However, PokerStars could still wait for one of the state’s existing casinos to pass on applying for an online poker license and try to go it alone.
Either way PokerStars wants in the PA online poker market and is likely to be there from the outset.
Caesars Entertainment owns and operates the Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in Chester, PA. Caesars’ online gaming arm, Caesars Interactive Entertainment, owns and operates World Series of Poker-branded online poker rooms in both New Jersey and Nevada.
Put that all together and the idea of Caesars launching a WSOP.com PA site doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.
The WSOP.com Nevada site shares player pools with the 888 network of online poker sites in Delaware under an agreement signed between the two states in 2014. New Jersey just signed on to join the agreement in October 2017 and WSOP.com appears poised to be the first to take advantage and share liquidity across all three states.
Pennsylvania will likely join that agreement sooner or later, and WSOP.com will want to be in PA so it can take advantage.
Plus, the WSOP’s brand recognition remains unmatched in the poker world. A PA presence can only help strengthen it.
Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino and owners Rush Street Gaming launched their own New Jersey online gambling site in September 2016. SugarHouse has the software ready to roll. So, it could very well be one of the first to apply for table games and slots licenses in PA.
SugarHouse doesn’t run an online poker site in New Jersey. However, the poker room at SugarHouse Casino in PA is run in partnership with the Poker Night in America TV show and live stream produced by Rush Street. Poker Night in America has a mobile app that offers free-to-play online poker.
If SugarHouse and Poker Night in America want to continue to build on their presence in the PA poker market, a real-money online poker site would be the next logical step. Plus, all signs indicate they could be ready to launch right away. That would allow them to immediately take advantage of the myriad of cross-promotional opportunities available live and online.
Parx Casino has long been home to the the top revenue-generating poker room in the state. In January 2018, the casino used some of that revenue to open up a new 48-table poker room.
It also continues to run Pennsylvania’s largest and most successful live poker tournament series. The Parx Big Stax series runs five times a year.
Parx launched a GAN-powered social casino in early 2015. GAN later indicated its multi-year relationship with Parx would extended to real-money online gambling.
That means GAN will likely launch a Parx-branded online casino in the coming months. However, GAN isn’t really in the online poker business.
Parx may want to take advantage of the cross promotions online poker can offer it’s live poker room. However, its probably going to have to find a new software partner to help it do so.
Where can I play poker live in Pennsylvania?
Live poker is a big draw in Pennsylvania. According to PGCB, ten of the 12 PA casinos have poker rooms. Between them, there are 225 tables operating.
Only Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin and Valley Forge Casino Resort do not have poker rooms.
Here’s a list of the ten poker rooms currently operating across PA:
- Parx Casino – Brand new 48-table poker room replaced the highest grossing poker room in the state in January 2018.
- Harrah’s Philadelphia – World Series of Poker-branded poker room with 28 tables.
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course – 16-table poker room open 24 hours year round.
- Mohegan Sun Pocono – 18-table poker room with a wide range of limits, cash games and tournaments.
- Mount Airy Casino Resort – The Poker Parlor at the Mount Airy Casino Resort features action on nine tables.
- Sands Bethlehem – 30-table poker room with cash games and regular tournament schedule.
- SugarHouse Casino – The Poker Night in America Poker Room at SugarHouse Casino features action on 28 tables.
- Rivers Casino – The Rivers Casino Poker Room at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh features non-stop poker action on 30 tables.
- The Meadows Racetrack & Casino – The Meadows Poker Room at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino features 14 tables with an open view of the live racing action on the track.
- Presque Isle Downs – State-of-the art poker room with seven tables.
History of online poker in Pennsylvania
A massive online poker boom kicked off in the US in 2003. That’s when a Tennessee accountant appropriately named Chris Moneymaker earned his way into the WSOP Main Event through an online satellite and went on to win it all.
Poker’s popularity soared, particularly on TV, where cheap poker programming filled with commercials for online poker sites suddenly became a staple of cable network programming.
US Congress tried to gain some control by stuffing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the Safe Ports Act in 2006. The legislation ensured US banks would stop processing transactions for the many offshore online poker operators accepting US customers. A number of those operators left the US market, but others found creative ways around the new laws and online poker still flourished.
Online poker’s Black Friday
Five years later, on April 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice put a stop to it. The top executives at major online poker operators including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet were all charged with various money laundering and illegal gambling charges. The US-facing domains were seized and the sites immediately stopped accepting US customers The door to online poker in America was suddenly closed.
However, signs it could be opening again began to surface by the end of the year.
In December 2011, the DOJ released a legal opinion that Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting. It was supposed to clarify things for state’s interested conducting in online lottery sales. However, it also paved the way for states to begin to consider licensing and regulating online poker and casino sites.
Over the next two years Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey all passed different forms of online gambling legislation and opened up fenced-in online poker markets.
Nevada and Delaware signed an agreement to share players pools in 2014 and started doing so in early 2015. New Jersey signed on to that same agreement in October 2017.
Legal and regulated online poker in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania lawmakers started kicking the tires on online gambling legislation back in 2013. Rep. Tina Davis introduced legalization that would legalize online casino games and online poker. It was modeled on online gambling bills passed in New Jersey. However, it was never really more than the start of the conversation.
The year ended with the PA Senate commissioning a study on the issue.
The Senate got what looked like positive results for online gambling from the study in 2014. Online gambling bills were then introduced in both the House and the Senate. By the end of the year, the Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development held an online gambling hearing and Pennsylvania was suddenly seriously considering online gambling.
The legislature appeared more serious about online gambling in 2015, and it ended up in and out of the budget several times during deliberations. It end up out.
Every time lawmakers looked close to passing online gambling legislation in 2016, efforts were derailed by the consideration of even more gambling expansions across the state.
The online gambling budget balance
Finally, in 2017, faced with a massive budget deficit and few answers on how to erase it, PA lawmakers turned to online gambling.
In May, the Senate passed an online gambling bill. In June, the House fixed a number of issue with it, including tax rates, then added further gambling expansion initiatives including video gaming terminals.
Only this time the gambling expansion initiatives didn’t derail the bill. Lawmakers went into the summer of 2017 still debating the details of what had turned into a comprehensive gambling expansion bill.
When they got back to work in the fall, they worked out all the kinks and a bill, which included a plan to legalize and regulate online poker in PA, was passed.