Last Updated: July 17, 2019
As most know now, online poker in Pennsylvania did not launch on July 15. Operators limited their debuts to the online casino portion of interactive play.
Furthermore, a recent report from Pokerfuse indicated that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) cannot give any sort of timeframe for online poker’s launch in the Keystone State. However, this news is not as dire as it seems.
The hold-up is not on the regulatory side of things. Rather, it is simply a matter of operators readying themselves to offer online poker.
Unfortunately, if the situation in New Jersey is any indication, poker is not as profitable a venture as online casino play or sports betting. So, it’s not a surprise that our favorite game is the lowest priority of the three launches.
Nevertheless, we’ll keep on top of the situation. At this point, any of the approved operators could show up with an online poker product quickly.
In terms of which operator that could be, there are seven casinos in the state that have submitted applications for and been approved to offer online poker to Pennsylvania residents. They are:
MGM has also submitted an application for online poker through its Borgata property in New Jersey.
2018 was a landmark time for gaming company partnerships. It seemed that no week passed without another announcement about a new corporate alliance. One year later, things can still change rapidly about which companies have access to the licenses in the Keystone State.
Nevertheless, we can make some guesses as to which companies will be establishing a presence in Pennsylvania. There are four frontrunners right now, due to their connections both within and outside the state. Here they are, along with their most relevant corporate ties:
Two other companies are not quite as good a bet to come to the table. The primary reason that they’re behind the other four companies is the lack of a physical connection in Pennsylvania.
However, their combination of expertise and proprietary software means that existing casinos may look to them in the future. They are:
It’s important to keep in mind, also, that Pennsylvania is expected to join with Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware to share player pools. If and when that happens, there may be other companies that make a move toward the Keystone State.
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:
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.
The board began distributing licenses in August 2018. So far, seven Pennsylvania properties have applied and received approval to offer online gaming (including poker) in the state.
However, none have brought their products online yet. The controversy over the Department of Justice’s Wire Act opinion has caused the casinos to delay a bit.
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:
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.
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 the Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting. It was supposed to clarify things for the 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.
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.
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.
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.