Legal online poker in Pennsylvania finally goes live on July 15.
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole made the announcement at a PGCB meeting Wednesday, and players in the Keystone State can look forward to enjoying regulated online gambling and poker this summer.
Seven Pennsylvania casinos have been approved to offer online poker, which became the fourth U.S. state to legalize online gambling in October 2017. Online poker giants like PokerStars, partypoker, and 888Poker have partnered with some of these casinos and will finally debut their PA-based poker clients.
The Pennsylvania casinos slated to offer online poker, along with their technology partners, are as follows:
- Mount Airy Casino Resort (PokerStars)
- HARRAH’S PHILADELPHIA (WSOP/888poker)
- VALLEY FORGE CASINO (partypoker)
- Parx Casino (Gan/Kambi)
- Hollywood Casino (IGT)
- Sugarhouse Casino (Rush Street Interactive/Kambi)
- Sands Bethlehem (TBD)
An eighth potential operator, Marina District Development Company/Borgata, has filed a petition to offer online gambling in the state as well.
DOJ Opinion Delays Launch
Originally expected in early 2019, the launch of legal online gambling in Pennsylvania has been delayed, partly due to the US Department of Justice issuing a reversal of opinion on the Wire Act in January.
The unexpected reversal mandated that all infrastructure related to Pennsylvania’s online gambling launch must be entirely contained within state borders, and put an end (for now) to hopes of merged player pools across state lines to other states offering legal online poker.
“The recent federal Department of Justice opinion regarding the Wire Act has caused all to take a step back and make sure any online gambling (including other casino-type games and sports wagering) will adhere to that federal law,” PGCB Communications Director Doug Harbach told PocketFives in February. “We have requested from the operators individual plans on how it would adhere to the tenets of this opinion.”
The original 1961 Wire Act stated that any kind of transfer of money across state lines for a gambling-related transaction was illegal, but in 2011 the DOJ issued an opinion that this language only applied to sports betting. With this clarification of the Wire Act in place, WSOP/888 went forward with a merger of its U.S. player pools in May 2018, giving the US its first multi-state online poker network.
WSOP/888 was expected to add the Pennsylvania player pool to its already existing U.S. network and create a merged player base, allowing Pennsylvania players to compete against players from other states (Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) in the network. Partypoker and PokerStars, both of which operate legal online poker in New Jersey, were expected to do the same.
On January 14, 2019, however, the DOJ issued a reversal of the 2011 opinion, stating that the language in the Wire Act applies to all forms of gambling, and would therefore make any kind of interstate poker network, including the already existing WSOP/888 network, illegal.
The ruling forced Pennsylvania’s prospective poker operators to rethink their strategies, with the aim of adhering to the new DOJ opinion.
Waiting for the Launch of Legal Online Poker
Since the October 2017 legalization of online gambling, the state’s 13 land-based casinos have engaged with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) in the process of applying for permits to offer “interactive gaming”, an umbrella term which includes online poker, slots, and table games.
The casinos that wanted to start offering online gambling were required to apply for separate permits in each of the three interactive gaming categories. All seven of the casinos approved to operate online poker also applied for permits to operate slots and table games as well.
Sports betting, which was also legalized in Pennsylvania in October 2017 when Governor Tom Wolf signed off on legislation to expand casino gambling in the state, hasn’t experienced the delays seen with online gambling. Land-based sports betting was up and running at several Pennsylvania casinos as of December 2018.
O’Toole originally announced the reasons for the delay of the state’s online gambling launch at a House Appropriations hearing in February. The PGCB issued a letter to the state’s prospective online gambling operators shortly after the DOJ Wire Act ruling, advising to adhere to the new opinion.
“What we wanted to accomplish in that letter was to make sure that the casinos thoroughly read that reinterpretation and looked very closely at their plan for implementing interactive gaming in Pennsylvania,” O’Toole said at the hearing.
“There had been an expectation that those iGaming operators who were partnering with our casinos in Pennsylvania, if they already had infrastructure in another jurisdiction, that they could leverage that to reduce the cost of implementing iGaming. But with that reinterpretation, it became quite obvious that everything had to be on an interstate basis.”
The DOJ ruling certainly contributed to the delay, but it appears that PA’s online poker operators have met the challenge, and players in the Keystone State will soon have access to legal, regulated online poker.