Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole made the announcement at last week’s PGCB board meeting, and the options will be plenty when the Keystone State’s poker rooms go live this summer.
Seven casinos have been approved to operate online poker in Pennsylvania. Three of these casinos are partnering with big-name brands (WSOP/888, PokerStars and partypoker) that will expand their presence in the United States with the launch of their PA poker clients.
Here’s a look at the seven companies, along with their land-based casino partners, approved to offer online poker in Pennsylvania. An eighth potential operator, Marina District Development Company/Borgata, has a pending petition filed with the PGCB.
Approved Pennsylvania Online Poker Operators
POKERSTARS (MOUNT AIRY CASINO RESORT)
The world’s largest online poker operator returned to the U.S. in 2016 with the launch of PokerStarsNJ. PokerStars’ parent company, The Stars Group, announced a partnership with Mount Airy Casino Resort in August 2018, with the intention of operating online poker in Pennsylvania.
The launch of a PokerStars PA site would put The Stars Group in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The addition of Pennsylvania’s 12.8-million population would more than double the market for PokerStars’ US operations.
For now, as a result of the DOJ reversal of opinion on the Wire Act, these NJ and PA player pools are separate, as gambling-related transactions cannot cross state lines under the new ruling.
Mount Airy Casino Resort operates one of the smallest live poker rooms in the state, but this partnership with The Stars Group indicates big plans for the online market.
WSOP/888POKER (HARRAH’S PHILADELPHIA)
Caesars Entertainment is the parent company of both Harrah’s and the World Series of Poker. When Harrah’s Philadelphia launches its online poker room, the WSOP/888 brand will be operating in four states, but the PA player pool will be segregated from the merged WSOP/888 network operating in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
It’s currently unknown if this means both WSOP.com and 888Poker skins for Pennsylvania (like the New Jersey business model), or if this offering from Harrah’s will be a single WSOP-branded site.
PARTYPOKER (POTENTIAL PARTNERSHIP WITH VALLEY FORGE CASINO)
Valley Forge Casino is one of the seven casinos approved for the operation of online poker in Pennsylvania, but as of this writing doesn’t have an official partnership with an existing online poker operator.
We can expect this partner to end up being Partypoker. Valley Forge Casino is owned by Boyd Gaming, which has a strategic partnership with GVC, the parent company of Partypoker.
Partypoker returned to the U.S. in 2013 with the launch of Partypoker NJ, and this potential offering from Valley Forge could make Partypoker a big player in the Pennsylvania online poker economy. Like PokerStars and WSOP/888, however, partypoker’s offering will operate as a Pennsylvania-only network.
GAN/KAMBI (PARX CASINO)
Parx Casino is the leading casino brand in Pennsylvania and also home to the state’s largest live poker room, with 48 tables and regularly occurring special events. How this will translate to the casino’s online poker offering remains to be seen.
Technology partners GAN and Kambi will provide the platform for Parx Casino’s online poker room. Both software companies are known for expertise in sports betting and other forms of online gambling, but neither has extensive experience producing online poker.
Parx is a huge brand in Pennsylvania, but lacks a prominent online poker partner like PokerStars or Partypoker.
IGT (HOLLYWOOD CASINO)
Hollywood Casino is teaming up with gambling tech giant IGT for its online poker site, and while IGT is more known as an industry leader in slot machine technology, the company could end up being a major player in the online poker world.
IGT introduced a completely revamped online poker platform at the 2016 Global Gaming Expo, and is the currently the operator of choice for all of Canada’s state-run, regulated poker sites.
IGT’s poker software includes an impressive mobile platform and new games like Poker Challenge, a tournament where each player’s chip stack returns to the starting stack size after every hand, and chip gains and losses are tallied separately. A final score is tabulated at the end of the tournament to determine the winner.
It’s clear that IGT wants to be a force in online poker, and the Hollywood Casino partnership will be its first shot at the U.S. market.
RUSH STREET INTERACTIVE/KAMBI (SUGARHOUSE CASINO)
Rush Street Gaming, parent company to Sugarhouse Casino, will roll out its poker platform under its in-house Rush Street Interactive company, and in partnership with Kambi, which is also one of Parx Casino’s technology partners.
Much like the Parx brand, it remains to be seen what role poker will play in the overall strategy for Rush Street Gaming’s online gambling efforts. The Rush Street Interactive/Kambi partnership already operates an online casino and sports betting platform in New Jersey, but without online poker.
Pennsylvania could see more of that same business model, as it’s currently unclear when the Sugarhouse Casino poker platform will actually launch.
The Sands Bethlehem will be the last of the seven approved operators to launch an online poker platform. The casino is currently owned by Sheldon Adelson, one of the most powerful and fierce opponents of online gambling.
The casino is slated to be sold to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians within the next year, however, and part of the conditions of the sale required current Sands Bethlehem ownership to apply for an online poker license.
The license is approved, but the sale of the casino isn’t final yet.