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  1. [caption width="640"] PokerStarsNJ is back on U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.[/caption] Monday, March 21 will go down as one of the brightest early days in the history of regulated poker in the United States. Sure, the markets are few and far between and this new world of online poker is in its infancy, but when PokerStars, after nearly a five-year hiatus from dealing real money poker in the United States, made its return, people got excited. The day, which PocketFives covered live, featured a number of important firsts. First tournament win. First time over 500 seated players. First time over 1,000 seated players. First set of nightly tournaments. While there was probably some celebration in PokerStars’ offices in New Jersey and Isle of Man, there are probably also multiple whiteboards and legal pads filled with notes on things that worked and things that didn’t on Day 1. While nobody from PokerStars is likely to share the content of those whiteboards or notepads, watching the day unfold from the outside looking provided a unique perspective as the day unfolded. Here is What We Learned. People still love PokerStars Black Friday was over 1,800 days ago. That was the last time that PokerStars dealt real money poker in the United States, so its return to the market comes after a lengthy absence. There was probably very good reason to assume people would be excited about the return, but even the most optimistic soul probably didn’t think PokerStars would find itself over 1,000 seated players for a good chunk of prime time on Monday night. While recent events with the rest-of-world product have turned some high-stakes regulars against the company, the general reaction from New Jersey players on Monday was one of pure excitement. Following the social media chatter throughout the day, there were very few complaints or messages of disappointment about what was happening in New Jersey. Spin & Gos are hot; Sit & Gos are not When PokerStars dealt its last hand of real money poker in the U.S., sit & gos were one of the most popular products the company had. Recreational players – those without a six-hour window to dedicate to playing a multi-table tournament – were more than happy to play a sit & go and, good or bad, be done in an hour. In 2014, the company introduced a new concept: the Spin & Go. Played three-handed, the Spin & Gos are a hyper-turbo tournament where, instead of playing for the buy-ins of all players, the prize pool is determined by a pre-tournament spin of a wheel. Players end up playing for between 2X and 10,000X the buy-in amount. The PokerStarsNJ launch gave Americans their first taste of this new product and they proved to be extremely popular. On the other hand, those sit & gos that were once a staple of the overall experience struggled to find traction. Watching all lobbies throughout the day on Monday, the SNG lobby looked and felt like a bit of a ghost town. Those recreational players, the ones who originally flocked to them, seem more keen on gambling it up a little bit to find a big prize pool to play for in a Spin & Go than grinding out a smaller payday in a standard sit & go. PokerStars enjoyed a late-mover advantage When the New Jersey market first opened up, there were a number of hurdles that operators and players faced. While most players were expecting and hoping for an experience identical to the one they had pre-regulation, the reality was a lot different. The sign-up process was different, more personal information (including Social Security Number) was required, credit card companies were slow to differentiate between regulated, legal online gaming operations and offshore gray market sites and depositing wasn’t easy. One of the biggest issues was geo-location. NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement regulations require operators to limit their offering to people within the Garden State. Geo-location software was supposed to make this an easy process, but players were often met with confusing situations, including being told they weren’t in New Jersey even though they were attempting to play from that operator’s Atlantic City casino. But while partypoker, 888, WSOP.com and the now-defunct Ultimate Poker suffered through those early hassles and made their own share of mistakes along the way, PokerStars sat back and were able to observe and be ready for any potential problems. GeoComply, a third-party company that is now the standard-bearer for the gaming industry, solved the geo-location issue. Credit card processing still isn’t perfect (some players reported issues depositing with VISA on Monday), but it’s a lot further developed than it was. The initial guarantees weren’t all that aggressive PokerStars developed a reputation years ago of being the site for tournaments. When they announced their PokerStarsNJ tournament schedule last week, it was met with a shoulder shrug or two and considered pretty standard for the state. To be fair, the New Jersey market isn’t big and there are already a couple of operators with market share. That being said, PokerStarsNJ had no trouble at all making the guarantees on Day 1. A snapshot of some of the regular schedule and how they did against the guarantee. The Big $5: $500 guarantee, $759.85 prize pool The Big $10: $1,000 guarantee, $1,274 prize pool The Big $20: $1,000 guarantee, $1,601.60 prize pool The Big $50: $1,500 guarantee, $3,594.50 prize pool The Nightly Stars $100: $10,000 Guarantee, $12,943.80 There were a few smaller events that did have an overlay and a lot of this early success can be chalked up to the overall buzz and excitement about PokerStars being back in action, but should these numbers continue to be better than the guarantees, it seems likely that PokerStars will come up with bigger guarantees quickly to maintain this momentum. Not all the news was good on Monday PokerStars is a mammoth operation and the New Jersey market represents a fraction of its player base and revenue. So while that state, and a lot of the other U.S. markets, were celebrating Monday, the company managed to drop a bombshell on the rest of its player base. The price of poker was going up. Just after Noon ET, the company announced an increase in rake that averages out, according to PokerStars, to 4%, but "PokerStars will still have the lowest overall pricing (known as 'rake') of any major online poker operator." The increase comes just a few short months after the dramatic altering of the PokerStars VIP program that led to player strikes and meetings between high-profile players and company executives. The announcement, which did not impact the PokerStarsNJ rake, was not received well. The timing could have been a coincidence, but it still felt like a dark cloud on what was otherwise a day of rainbows and sunshine. While New Jersey players were happily clicking away at flush draws and making hero calls for the first time in five years, regular players in other markets were again taking to social media to express their frustration, anger and disappointment with the way in which PokerStars is conducting business. Rather than enjoy a day or two or seven of mostly positive coverage, the company found itself swimming in a sea of negative energy.
  2. [caption width="640"] Just days before their full launch, PokerStars NJ announced their tournament schedule.[/caption] After a long and hard-fought battle, PokerStars New Jersey officially began dealing legal, real money poker hands in New Jersey on Wednesday, kicking off a five-day "soft launch" phase mandated by state regulators. The excitement was palpable amongst the New Jersey poker community, which was happy to see the familiar PokerStars software client once again available in the Garden State. On Thursday, the online poker giant gave players even more to look forward to by announcing the recurring daily and Sunday Major tournament schedule. Since the site is ring-fenced and limited to the players in state of New Jersey, the events on the schedule offer just a fraction of the guarantees available to PokerStars players in other parts of the world. Even so, when the site ends its soft launch period and opens up to the entire state, or potentially pools players with other US states, there is plenty of room for growth. Daily Tournaments The daily tournaments are broken down into six categories: The Daily Bigs, The Hot Turbos, KO Fever, Nightly Stars, Change-Up and Moonlight Express. Here’s more: The Daily Bigs are freezeout tourneys running daily running from 4 PM-7 PM that feature 10,000 chip stacks with 8-12 minute blind levels. Buy-ins for the four events on offer start at $5 and max out at $50. The $50 tournament boasts a $1,500 guarantee, the highest of the group. The Hot Turbos feature fast-paced action, with players starting with 10,000 chips and blind levels increasing every five minutes. Tournaments run from 8 PM-12 AM with buy-ins going as high as $50. KO Fever is comprised of four Super Knockout or Progressive Super Knockout tournaments which start at 1:30 PM and run until 10:30 PM. The $50 entry tournament is the highest on offer for the group and guarantees $3,000. Nightly Stars is a $100 nightly tournament beginning at 7 PM, which boasts a $10,000 guarantee, the biggest of all the daily events. Change-Up is made up of three tournaments with buy-ins of $5, $15 and $20. As the name implies, these events shake things up by offering Omaha Hi-Lo, Omaha and Stud. Moonlight Express is a $20 buy-in late-night tournament which kicks off at 11 PM. It features a Hyper-Turbo structure and a $1,000 guarantee. Sunday Majors New Jersey players will also able to enjoy the five following Sunday tournaments: Sunday Warm-Up kicks off the big Sunday tournaments at 4 PM with a $50 buy-in and a $10,000 guarantee. Sunday Storm is a $5,000 guaranteed tournament which starts at 5 PM and, at $10, features the lowest buy-in of all the Sunday Majors. Sunday Special boasts a $50,000 guarantee, the biggest of the day, with a $200 buy-in. Qualifiers will be running and give players the opportunity to enter for a fraction of the price. Sunday High Roller begins at 7 PM and boasts a $500 buy-in with a $15,000 guarantee. The buy-in is the biggest of the day. Sunday Supersonic is the last tournament of the day and features a speedy Hyper-Turbo structure with a $75 buy-in and $5,000 guaranteed. This schedule kicks in on Monday, March 21 when the "soft-launch" phase is officially over. The first PokerStars NJ Sunday Majors will run March 27. Sign-up for PokerStars New Jersey now from anywhere in the United States and be ready to play the second you're in New Jersey.
  3. [caption width="641"] Michigan could be welcoming online poker back sooner rather than later.[/caption] Since State Senator Mike Kowall introduced an online gaming bill in April, Michigan has emerged as one of the most likely candidates to join Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey as states with legal online poker. That being said, Michigan's nascency on this issue caught many of analysts and pundits off guard, which has created a cloud of uncertainty, and left them trying to gauge whether Michigan is a legitimate contender or if the whole thing is smoke and mirrors. Here's what we know about the situation in Michigan. The Path Forward Before online gambling can progress any further, the Michigan legislature is going to need to pass a budget. And considering the short space of time they have before summer recess (the legislature is scheduled to head home on June 16, and won't return in full until September 7) it's unlikely online gaming will be passed by the Senate before June 16. Of note, the House calendar is different than the Senate calendar. If Senator Kowall's online gambling is passed in the Senate before the summer recess, the House is scheduled to be in session on July 13 and August 3, and could, theoretically, pass the bill on either day. If the Senate doesn't pass the bill before they go on their summer break, the bill will remain active throughout, and the legislature will have until December 31 to pass it. The bill will only become inactive at the end of the year, as any legislation pending at the end of a legislative period (in this case, December 31, 2016) is not carried over to the next legislative session. If online gambling isn't passed by the end of the year it will need to be reintroduced by the next legislature in 2017. Lame Duck Pros and Cons Essentially, the key to this process seems to be getting the bill out of the Senate and over to the House for consideration. The most likely timeline seems to be in late November or December, following the current election cycle - particularly since the entire Michigan House of Representatives is up for reelection this year; the Senate is not. The impending lame duck session could be seen as the perfect opportunity to pass online gambling. On the other hand, the months-long delay could give the opposition voices - which will likely be bolstered by Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling - the opportunity to mount a more cohesive attack against the bill. Where is the Support and Opposition Coming From? In an interview last month, Senator Kowall indicated the only real opposition to the bill was the typical anti-gambling crowd. Considering their presence at the May 4 hearing, it appears PokerStars and their parent company Amaya are a key driver of this legislation. However, during the bill's May 4 hearing, MGM and the state's other commercial casinos declared themselves neutral to the bill. This is somewhat concerning as MGM is one of the most vocal advocates for online gambling expansion, and offered their full-throated support for New York's online poker bill, even though they don't have a brick and mortar presence in the Empire State. A strong voice of opposition is the state's Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette has been a signatory on each of the letters that have been sent to Congress supporting a federal online gambling ban during his time as Michigan Attorney General. Schuette has been somewhat quiet on his state's current efforts to pass an online gambling bill. His current silence has led to the belief that his opposition is already baked into the bill, and of no real consequence to the current effort.
  4. [caption width="640"] The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed HB 2150, a bill that would regulate online poker, internet gambling, and daily fantasy sports[/caption] It's the final countdown… literally. With just two days to go in the Pennsylvania General Assembly's session, the state's House of Representatives passed HB 2150, a bill that would regulate online poker, internet gambling, and daily fantasy sports. "Poker wins another round in the fight for our game," Poker Players Alliance Vice President Rich Muny said. "We look forward to taking the momentum from this resounding victory into our Senate fight, where we will lead the fight for ultimate victory. The PPA will soon launch an all-new Pennsylvania Action Page, which will make it easy for the online poker community to take action, telling Pennsylvania State Senators to support online poker. I encourage everyone to be sure to take action to help pass this important legislation." "We've cleared an important hurdle and regulated iPoker is becoming very real for Pennsylvania," PPA Executive Director John Pappas said. "We are in the home stretch and every contact we make with the Pennsylvania Senate brings iPoker that much closer to reality." Last week, the Pennsylvania House approved an amendment allowing internet gambling to an existing bill regulating fantasy sports. There was much debate over the inclusion of video game terminals, or VGTs, which were ultimately voted down. An internet gambling-only amendment survived and passed by a 115-80 vote. And just like that, the fates of online poker and fantasy sports were joined at the hip in the Keystone State. On Tuesday, there was no drama and no debate. Instead, seemingly out of the blue, HB 2150 passed by a 114-85 count. Speaking on HB 2150's prospects in the Pennsylvania Senate, Muny said, "We think the Senate is shaping up to be okay, but there are no guarantees. We can all help ourselves, and our odds, by being sure to take action by telling the Senate to pass this bill." HB 2150 now heads to the Pennsylvania Senate, where, according to Online Poker Report, the bill could face some push-back. "In the past, we've seen powers in the Senate offer visions of regulated online gambling that clash in significant ways with HB 2150," OPR said. "And as recently as a year ago, key voices in the Senate held material doubts about regulating online gambling." The budgetary benefits of online gambling and daily fantasy sports should be of interest to State Senators and Governor Tom Wolf alike. Speaking of Wolf, Gambling Compliance's Chris Krafcik Tweeted on Monday that he's open to internet gambling in a budgetary context, but only if revenue from it helps solves the state's budget woes. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday, although that date appears to be fluid. Pennsylvania would become just the fourth state in the US, joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, to regulate online gambling in some form.
  5. [caption width="640"] Pennsylvania and Michigan could still find a way to regulate online gaming in 2016[/caption] The future of online gambling in the United States could very well be decided between now and the end of the year. The country isn't at a make-or-break point, but with no state legalizing online gaming in over three years, any chance at widespread online gambling legalization by 2020 is slowly slipping away. On the other hand, if one or both of the states where online gambling legalization is still very much in play can get a bill passed this year, we could see several other states follow suit in 2017, creating the widespread legalization that seemed like a foregone conclusion back in 2013, when Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey all launched legal online gaming sites. What states are still in play?In Pennsylvania, the legislature is on the precipice of passing a bill legalizing online gambling. The Pennsylvania House of Representative passed the bill back in July, and both chambers have included online gaming revenue from the bill as a funding source for the state budget. But nothing is a slam dunk, and as is often the case with any legislation that is seen as an expansion of gambling, the final nudge across the finish line is the hardest and most frustrating. As Happy Gilmore would say: At the same time, online gambling legislation in Michigan has been flying under the radar and quietly biding its time. This isn't surprising considering the bill's sponsor, State Senator Mike Kowall has said action is unlikely until after the November 8 elections. Here's a closer look at where both states stand. PennsylvaniaThe Pennsylvania question - is this really the year or is it just another case of Charlie Brown falling for Lucy's tomfoolery - should be answered over the course of the next two weeks. However, it's not out of the question that online gambling could drag into November or December if the Pennsylvania legislature hasn't passed a bill to fix the local tax share the state Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. If this occurs the legislature could add session days in November or December. If the tax share issue is solved, and online gambling isn't addressed at the same time, the legislature will need to start over in 2017, although the foundation for the bill, and the impetus for it (a funding source for the budget) will already be in place. Dragging into 2017 isn't a death knell, but the hope among online gambling supporters is the legislature will use the urgency of the tax share fix (the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave the legislature until the end of January to solve the issue) to deal with online gambling, and that the two issues will be solved together. This is something House members seem to favor, while the Senate is more wishy-washy on the best way to deal with both of these issues. Also of note, the Senate is apparently trying to decouple daily fantasy sports from online gambling. I was told this summer that the separation of online gambling and DFS would be a bad sign for online gambling's 2016 chances. It's unclear if the House has the votes to pass a standalone DFS bill without online gambling legalization. MichiganMichigan burst onto the scene as a potential candidate for online gambling legalization this summer, but all along State Senator Mike Kowall, who is pushing for the legalization of online gambling and sponsored the state's iGaming bill, has been tamping down expectations until after the elections. Despite its inaction, there have been several breadcrumbs dropped in the past couple months that would seem to indicate online gambling is still very much on the table in Michigan. On September 1, Amaya's Jeanne David, who runs the company's responsible gaming department, tweeted out that the company gave a Michigan Senator (almost certainly Mike Kowall) a tour of its New Jersey operation. A couple of weeks later, on September 14, Gambling Compliance's Chris Krafcik tweeted out that "substitute iGaming bill lingo" was in the works; a bill that would fix a couple of structural issues with the original bill. The final breadcrumb was dropped this week when Brian Pempus reported that Senator Kowall's office stated there is "plenty of time" to get the bill passed this year. Per Pempus' reporting: "Lawmakers are meeting this week and will come back in November to try to finalize a plan. There are also session days in December."Upshot2016 isn't the end of the road for online gambling in the United States, but the longer we go in between legislation, the harder it becomes to reach a point where legal online gambling is available in the majority of the country.
  6. [caption width="640"] The PokerStars New Jersey Championship of Online Poker Takes Over the New Jersey ONline Poker scene for the next 16 days.[/caption] The PokerStars New Jersey Championship of Online Poker is going to fill up the calendars of New Jersey online poker players over the next couple of weeks. NJCOOP runs October 15 - 31 and includes a total of 43 events and a total of $1.2 million in guaranteed prize pools. This marks the second COOP series to run in New Jersey. The first was in May when the New Jersey Spring Championship of Online Poker had 52 events spread across two weeks. NJCOOP Schedule HighlightsEverything gets underway Saturday, October 15 with two warm-up events and then gets real on Sunday, October 16 with five events in one day. The marquee event that day is the $250 buy-in Sunday Special Special Edition which comes with a $100,000 guarantee. Just six of the 43 events on the schedule are Pot Limit Omaha, but the tournaments offered should offer enough value to keep the biggest PLO junkie happy. The first PLO event is Event #6, on Tuesday, October 6, and the $100 buy-in tournament has a $15,000 guarantee. There is also a $100 buy-in PLO Heads Up event on Wednesday, October 26. The second event on the calendar that comes with a six-figure guarantee is Event #28, the $1,000 buy-in Six Max High Roller. That goes Tuesday, October 25 at 6 pm. And that’s just a prelude to the Main Event. Sign-up now for PokerStarsNJ.com and get a free NBA Swingman jersey. Details here.NJCOOP Main EventThe $500 buy-in Main Event is set to run over two days beginning Saturday, October 30 and it comes with the biggest guarantee of all, $200,000. The Saturday start is designed to allow more recreational players who would otherwise be working on Monday the chance to play the two-day event without fear of having to make arrangements on Day 2. For comparison, the Main Event of the first event PokerStarsNJ Spring Championship of Online Poker last May had a buy-in of $500 and a $200,000 guarantee and drew 392 players to just meet out on the guarantee. The LeaderboardIt wouldn’t be a PokerStars COOP series without a leaderboard. Players who finish in the top 15 for the NJCOOP Leaderboard will earn their share of $10,000 in tournament dollars, with the best performer earning T$2,000. 2016 PokerStars New Jersey Championship of Online Poker Schedule Start TimeEvent #TournamentGuarantee Saturday, October 15 6:00 PM1$100 Nightly Stars - NJCOOP Warm-Up$15,000 8:00 PM2$200 NL Hold'em (Turbo) - NJCOOP Warm-Up$10,000 Sunday, October 16 3:30 PM3$150 NL Hold'em (Progressive Super KO)$30,000 5:00 PM4$250 Sunday Special SE$100,000 7:00 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1A)$50,000 8:00 PM6$100 PL Omaha (8-max)$15,000 10:00 PM7$150 Sunday SuperSonic SE (Hyper)$15,000 Monday, October 17 6:30 PM8$100 NL Hold'em (Speed-Down)$20,000 7:30 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1B)$50,000 8:00 PM9$500 PL Omaha High Roller (6-max)$30,000 Tuesday, October 18 6:30 PM10$100 NL Hold'em 1R1A$20,000 7:30 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1C)$50,000 8:30 PM11$300 NL Hold'em (Heads-Up)$20,000 Wednesday, October 19R] 6:30 PM12$100 NL Hold'em (Progressive Super-KO)$20,000 7:30 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1D)$50,000 8:00 PM13$200 Limit Hold'em (6-max)$10,000 Thursday, October 20 6:30 PM14$500 8-Game (6-max)$20,000 7:30 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1E)$50,000 8:00 PM15$50+R NL Hold'em$20,000 Friday, October 21 7:00 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1F)$50,000 8:00 PM16$200 TRiple Stud$10,000 9:30 PM17$50+R NL Hold'em (3-Max, Hyper, Rebuy)$7,500 Saturday, October 22 5:00 PM18$100 NL Hold'em (Deepstack, 8-max)$15,000 7:00 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1G)$50,000 8:00 PM19$200 NL Hold'em (Ante-Up)$10,000 Sunday, October 23 2:00 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-max, Day 1H)$50,000 3:30 PM20$100 Mixed NLHE/PLO (6-max)$15,000 5:00 PM21$350 Sunday Special SE$75,000 7:00 PM22$200 NL Hold'em (Progressive SuperKO)$35,000 8:00 PM5$50 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 2)$50,000 9:00 PM23$100 NL Hold'em (Shootout, 6-Max, Turbo)$10,000 9:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 1A)$35,000 Monday, October 24 6:00 PM25$300 NL Hold'em (4-max)$30,000 8:00 PM26$75+R PL Omaha Hi/Lo (Rebuy, 8-max)$10,000 9:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 1B)$35,000 Tuesday, October 25 6:00 PM27$150 NL Hold'em (1R1A)$25,000 7:00 PM28$1,000 NL Hold'em (High Roller, 6-max)$100,000 8:00 PM29$100 FL Omaha Hi/Lo (8-max)$5,000 9:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 1C)$35,000 Wednesday, October 26 6:00 PM30$25+R NL Hold'em (Rebuy)$20,000 8:00 PM31$100 PL Omaha HU$5,000 9:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 1D)$35,000 Thursday, October 27 6:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 1E, Turbo)$35,000 7:30 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 1A)$50,000 8:30 PM24$150 NL Hold'em (6-Max, Day 2)$35,000 8:00 PM33$50+R PL Omaha (6-Max, Rebuy)$10,000 9:00 PM34$150 NL Hold'em (Turbo)$20,000 Friday, October 28 7:00 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 1B)$50,000 8:00 PM35$100 PL 5-Card Omaha (8-max)$7,500 9:00 PM36$200 NL Hold'em (Deep, Hyper)$15,000 Saturday, October 29 6:00 PM37$300 NL Hold'em (6-max)$30,000 7:00 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 1C)$50,000 9:00 PM38$75 NL Hold'em (Zoom)$15,000 Sunday, October 30 2:00 PM39$100 NL Hold'em (Big Antes)$15,000 5:00 PM40$500 NL Hold'em Main Event (Day 1)$200,000 7:00 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 1D)$50,000 8:00 PM41$15+R NL Hold'em (6-max, Turbo, Rebuy)$10,000 10:00 PM42$75 Sunday Supersonic SE (Hyper)$10,000 Monday, October 31 6:00 PM40$500 NL Hold'em Main Event (Day 2)$200,000 6:00 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 1E, Turbo)$50,000 8:00 PM32$100 NL Hold'em (Day 2)$50,000 9:00 PM43$150 NL Hold'em (Deep-Hyper, 6-Max)$15,000
  7. [caption width="640"] Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is the man leading the latest attempt to revisit RAWA[/caption] On the online gaming front, September raised more questions than answers, as two states continue to consider online gambling legalization and a new federal online gambling prohibition bill has surfaced in Congress. The Pennsylvania Senate's unwillingness to act on the gaming reform bill the House passed back in July has created a cloud of uncertainty when it comes to online gambling legalization in the Keystone State. A reworked online gaming bill could be introduced in Michigan any day now, but legislative action isn't expected until after the November elections. Meanwhile, over in New Jersey, the North Jersey Casino Referendum appears to be headed towards a resounding defeat on November 8. And finally, a new federal bill that would prohibit online gambling has been introduced, courtesy of Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.New wrinkle emerges in PennsylvaniaThe clock continues to tick on online gambling in Pennsylvania, but a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may have bought the Senate a bit more time to consider passing the legislation, and the House a bit more time to convince the Senate to pass the bill this year. In a case originally filed by Mount Airy Casino, the court found the local tax obligations each casino (with the exception of Category 3 and Philadelphia area properties) is required to pay unconstitutional. Essentially, each casino is required to pay the greater of $10 million or 2% of their slot revenue to local town(s) and the county, but, since no casino has ever paid more than $10 million, the tax is far more burdensome to smaller casinos. The court has given the legislature just 120 days to fix it. House members see this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, while Senate members have indicated they'd prefer to tackle the tax issue on its own. Because the tax issue cannot be brushed aside, the legislature may add extra session days, which would keep online gambling alive, even if it doesn't pass before the final scheduled session day, October 26. Michigan will soon be on the clockPennsylvania may be the best bet, but the Keystone State isn't the only state that could legalize online gambling this year. Online gambling legalization is still on the table in Michigan. Based on the legislative chatter, the Michigan legislature is still a good month away from considering online gambling, which will happen post-election, during the lame duck session, … if it happens at all. The Michigan Senate only has three scheduled session days between now and the November 8 election, October 18-20. The House is in session for one day during this time span, October 19. Conversely, the Senate is in session for 14 days from November 9 - December 31; the House is in session for 11 days over the same period of time. Gambling Compliance's Chris Krafick recently reported that a substitute online gaming bill was in the works, designed to address some taxation and revenue sharing issues some potential stakeholders had objected to in the original bill. RAWA is back and it's weaker than beforeAnother United States Senator, Tom Cotton (R-AR), has signed on to Sheldon Adelson's anti-online-gambling campaign. Cotton introduced a bill that would roll back a 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion, which would theoretically make online gambling illegal in the United States, and force New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware to cease offering licensed online games - not to mention the four states with online lottery products. Fortunately, the Cotton Bill is even more hypocritical than its predecessors, as it requires Congress to disavow the 2011 DOJ opinion, but enforce the 2002 DOJ opinion that initially decreed all online gambling was covered by the Wire Act. You can takea deeper dive into this contradiction here. Support for North Jersey casinos falteringSupport for casino expansion in North Jersey is at its lowest point in recent memory. Polling data from the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling puts opposition to the North Jersey Casino Referendum in the Garden State above the 50% threshold for the first time, with support dwindling to 40%. A similar poll in March had opposition at 49% and support at 44%. It's unlikely the trend will reverse, as the main group supporting North Jersey casinos, OurTurn NJ, has announced its pulling its advertising. “The data, however, speaks for itself. The current political climate in New Jersey and voters’ concerns about the lack of details relating to the effort have proved overwhelming," OurTurn NJ said in a statement. "Even knowing that an out-of-country gaming company that’s ends New Jerseyans’ gaming dollars to Malaysia is funding opposition ads does not have an impact. As such, with great reluctance we have decided to suspend the paid media component of the statewide campaign.”
  8. [caption width="640"] The New Jersey Championship of Online Poker runs for 16 days in October.[/caption] While the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker winds down for the site’s global player base, New Jersey poker players will soon have a championship tournament series of their own to look forward to. The Isle of Man-based gaming giant announced the New Jersey Championship of Online Poker, which plays out from October 15-31 and feature 43 events with buy-ins ranging from $15 to $1,000. The 16-day series, which is only available to players physically located in New Jersey, culminates with the $500 buy-in, $200,000 No Limit Hold‘em Main Event on October 30-31. PokerStars bills NJCOOP as New Jersey’s richest ever online poker tournament series, and highlights the event as proof of its commitment to growing online poker in the Garden State. The schedule features an array of poker variants, including Pot Limit Omaha, Eight Game and Triple Stud, to be played in a variety of structures and formats. Players can also look forward to a $100,000 guaranteed No Limit Hold‘em High Roller event with a $1,000 buy-in, and a PLO High Roller tournament with a $500 entry fee. Team PokerStars Pro and poker streaming pioneer Jason Somerville played several events in this year’s WCOOP while outside the US and broadcast all of his play on his popular Twitch channel. For NJCOOP he will be back in New Jersey hoping to win even more cash during some of his marathon streams. “I’m so excited that PokerStars is bringing the Championship of Online Poker to New Jersey,” Somerville said. “It’s great that players in the region can experience playing in this prestigious festival and the buzz that comes with chasing big prize money and major tournament titles. I’m looking forward to playing and streaming NJCOOP on Twitch in my hunt to win a title in its debut year.” Daily online qualifiers to all NJCOOP events are already running on PokerStarsNJ.com, with satellite tournaments to the larger buy-in event starting at just $1. Players can also take part in special $2.50 Spin & Go tournaments from September 26 to October 30, which award $500 Main Event tickets and cash prizes. Player of the Series Leaderboard Top performers at this year’s NJCOOP can win even more cash and prizes through the Player of the Series Leaderboard. Up to $10,000 in prizes will be given away to the site’s most consistently successful players, with the overall winner taking home $2,000 in tournament dollars. What’s more, PokerStars is also giving NJCOOP players the opportunity to win one of 20 PokerStars Festival New Jersey 2016 Main Event seats worth $1,100. Players who take part in the five NJCOOP events below will be entered into an All-in Shootout freeroll the following day to try and win their seat. 01 $100 Nightly Stars 04 $250 Sunday Special SE 08 $100 NL Hold'em [Speed-Down] 12 $100 NL Hold'em [Progressive Super-KO] 21 $350 Sunday Special SE
  9. [caption width="640"] Regulated online gaming once had a ton of momentum - so what happened?[/caption] After being empowered by a 2011 opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, online gambling legalization at the state level came out of the gates at a full sprint. Within a year and a half of the OLC opinion being proffered in September 2011, three states passed legislation legalizing online poker and/or online gambling, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey; three other states approved the sale of online lottery tickets, Illinois, Minnesota, and Georgia; and still more were looking to following their lead. When New Jersey legalized online gambling in February 2013, the spigot was believed to be fully open and online gambling was expected to spread across the country in a matter of a few years. Unfortunately, by the end of 2013, the spigot ran dry. Progress on the online gambling front slowed to a trickle, and it’s been in a state of stasis ever since. The stalled legalization efforts aren’t from a lack of trying, as states ranging from California to New York to Mississippi have introduced bills that would legalize online gaming. Some have been Hail Mary passes, but others have been legitimate attempts that have progressed through state legislatures. But in the ensuing three and a half years, just two states joined the ranks of online gaming states, Michigan and Kentucky. Neither state legalized online poker or online casino games; they simply authorized online lottery sales. These modest games were also partially offset when the Minnesota legislature repealed online lottery sales. Aside from adding two states on the online lottery front, and some incremental progress on online gambling measures in New York, California, and Pennsylvania, there is little for online gambling advocates to get excited about. What's the holdup?There are several reasons online gambling legalization efforts have stalled over the past three years. Legislation is rarely a speedy process Regardless of the perceived need for legalization and regulation (online gambling is currently taking place across the country on unregulated, offshore sites), and no matter how logical the reasons behind the effort sound, the passage of non-vital legislation is rarely a fast process, especially when the legislation has the hallmarks of gambling – DFS is the exception, not the rule. But progress is still progress, and considering how long other efforts have taken (legalization of marijuana for instance) online gambling isn’t doing all that bad. If you were to tell poker players on April 15, 2011 that they’d be able to play online poker legally in three states within two years they’d have laughed in your face. But once states started legalizing online gambling they adjusted their expectations and simply expected the momentum to continue. New Jersey and Nevada are gambling states Two of the three states that have legalized online gambling were two of the most likely candidates. Nevada and New Jersey are synonymous with gambling, so it shouldn’t be overly surprising that other states didn’t rush to join them, just like other states didn’t rush to join them when they legalized casino gambling in 1931 and 1976 respectively. The third state, Delaware, is simply too small to be of consequence. What the US needs is a large state like Pennsylvania or New York to pass an online gambling bill to reignite the fuse, and prove to other states that online gambling isn’t simply something being done in historically gaming states. Opposition formed after the first wave Following legalization in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, the situation became far more tumultuous by the presence of Sheldon Adelson, whose pronouncement in November of 2013 to "spend whatever it takes" to ban online gambling in the United States led to the creation of a well-funded, and high-profile opposition group. The first wave of states to legalize online gambling didn’t have to contend with this type of opposition campaign. They were lucky to have gotten out in front of it. Adelson’s efforts to prohibit online gambling haven't gained any traction, but it’s likely not a coincidence that efforts in other states ground to a halt once he became involved. If nothing else, he’s helped stall further expansion. Disappointing early returns And of course, it’s always about the money. Before any state actually launched an online gambling website, when legal online gambling was still theoretical, it was being bandied about as a potential windfall. Online gambling was going to be a panacea for budget shortfalls; an easy way to fill a state’s coffers with new tax revenue. This proved to not be the case, and when New Jersey fell short of its (patently absurd) projections by a factor of 10, the wind went out of the sails in other statehouses across the country. Once the conversation shifted from revenue to consumer protections and other legitimate but nuanced reasons, a lot of lawmakers lost interest in online gambling.
  10. [caption width="641"] The PokerStars approach to live events, which includes what some label "poker tourism", may help it sell the need for regulated online poker in the United States.[/caption] Last week PokerStars announced it would be rebranding all of its live poker events in an attempt to globalize the company's disparate poker tours. The first of these newly relabeled events, the PokerStars Festival New Jersey 2016 will take place at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City from October 29 - November 6. And beginning in 2017, all PokerStars live events will henceforth be known as PokerStars Championship and PokerStars Festival events. The upcoming event at Resorts, which happens to be PokerStars partner casino in New Jersey, has the capability to push one of the new talking points for legalization of online poker, the idea of poker tourism, and demonstrate why PokerStars is better positioned than all other online and land-based operators to excel on this front. The latest online poker legislative buzzword: Poker TourismPoker tourism is a new angle on the economic benefits advocates of legal, regulated online gambling have adopted. Basically, poker tourism is the ability to bring in visitors by hosting live poker events at a land-based casino. Poker tourism was on full display at the relatively small-scale Run It Up: Resorts Rumble event in May. The PokerStars branded event was able to fill dozens of hotel rooms that would otherwise have been vacant at the property. These visitors spent money on- and off-property, and left with a great experience, making them more likely to return. This is poker tourism. You might think this is small potatoes, but with revenue from online gambling underwhelming, and online gaming creating fewer jobs than land-based gaming, it's important to be able to explain to lawmakers the indirect ways legal online gaming will bring money into the economy. Poker tourism is a good argument to make, especially if you're PokerStars and you're trying to sell lawmakers on why your particular brand is important to a state. Having solid data showing the impact of a live event in New Jersey would be quite convincing: x number of players booked x room nights at $x/night. x number of players brought a guest with them. These players spent on average $x on amenities and food & beverage during their stays. Resorts had to increase staffing by x number of hours over the course of the week. The economic impact was $x. Poker tourism can also lead to capital investment. Successful live events at Resorts Casino are likely to lead to Resorts and PokerStars investing in a dedicated poker tournament area (or rehabbing existing conference spaces) and perhaps the long-rumored a PokerStars branded brick and mortar poker room. When poker tourism is added together with consumer protection benefits, and the direct economic impact of online gambling -from jobs to tax revenue to bolstering the state's existing land-based casino industry - it's a powerful argument to bring in front of lawmakers. There is money to be had. Jobs will be created as a result of online gambling. And far from being cannibalistic, online gaming will prop up existing casinos.PokerStars is the poker tourism leaderAny casino can host a poker tournament, but a state with legal online gambling, and a land based casino with a committed online poker partner like PokerStars, can pull off these events more often and with better results. Here's why. First, the land-based casino and the online operator are no longer partnered for a single event. They're long-term partners working together in a mutually beneficial way. It's no longer about the success of the tournament series; it's about the success of the casino. As Eric Hollreiser, PokerStars’ director of corporate communications, said in the press release announcing PokerStars Festival New Jersey: “We are committed to growing the poker market in New Jersey and part of this strategy is to help make New Jersey the poker hub of America in November. We invite players from across the globe to pitch up in the Garden State for the best live poker experience available in the world, live and online, with the first ever NJCOOP kicking off ahead of the Festival with plenty of tournaments on offer and big prizes.” Second, as Hollreiser noted, PokerStars can run online satellite tournaments and packages, both in-state and out-of-state in other markets around the globe. This allows PokerStars to pull from a much larger player pool, and bring in more out-of-state tourism dollars. Third, PokerStars has a history of running successful tournament series around the globe. PokerStars gets criticized from some corners for not focusing exclusively on poker anymore, this is an important part of providing the right experience for everyone, not just hardcore poker players. At the PokerStars Festival New Jersey, attendees will find: A dedicated StarsFun skills zone area with table tennis, air hockey, foosball, cornhole and darts, as well as several contests with cash prizes; Miniature Golf Hole-in-One Progressive; Hoops Fever Progressive; Pinball Progressive; RunItUp Day with Team PokerStars Pro and Twitch sensation Jason Somerville. RunItUp Day will include a poker seminar and a Q&A session with Somerville, along with a variety of mixed-game events, including a Dealer’s Choice Stud Club event. $300+$40 Survivor “Immunity” tournament with $3,000 in cash and prizes, with reality TV stars Tyson Apostol and 'Boston Rob' Mariano. All of these events and extracurricular activities seemed aimed at generating tourism dollars during the series, and sending people home with smiles on their faces, and making them more likely to want to return - be it for poker, or for some other reason. Bottom line: PokerStars brings things to the table other online operators don't have the desire or capability to pull off.
  11. [caption width="640"] Online poker players in California are probably going to be waiting longer for regulation - but who's at fault?[/caption] Barring an eleventh hour miracle, California's latest attempt to pass an online poker bill appears to have suffered the same fate as the state's previous efforts that date back nearly a decade. Looking ahead to 2017, frustrations could grow even more palpable.
  12. [caption width="640"] Rush Street Gaming has entered into real money online play in New Jersey under their SugarHouse brand.[/caption] Rush Street Gaming recently launched its first real-money US online gambling site, the PlaySugarHouse.com online casino in New Jersey. Rush Street doesn't own or operate an Atlantic City casino. The launch was made possible thanks to a deal between Rush Street and Golden Nugget that allows the Philadelphia-based SugarHouse Casino to operate an online casino under Golden Nugget's New Jersey operator license - only brick & mortar casino properties in Atlantic City are eligible to receive online gaming operator licenses. California's Pala Band of Mission Indians took a similar approach to entering the New Jersey online gambling market when they partnered with Borgata back in November of 2014. Like Pala, Rush Street will be able to field test its proprietary online gambling software in New Jersey. Unlike Pala, Rush Street's SugarHouse Casino is located in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has a strong New Jersey customer base. With its entry into New Jersey, and with Pennsylvania on the precipice of passing an online gambling bill, Rush Street is suddenly positioning itself as a major player in the US online gaming market. Location, location, locationIf you were a land-based casino company interested in online gambling, you'd be hard pressed to place casinos in better markets than the locales Rush Street's are located in. In addition to its PlaySugarHouse.com online casino in New Jersey, Rush Street just so happens to have casinos in three states that are top candidates for online gaming expansion: Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois. SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Rivers Casino in Des Plaines (Chicago area), Illinois Rivers Casino in Schenectady, New York Rush Street in PennsylvaniaRush Street operates two of the top four casinos in Pennsylvania. Rivers is third highest grossing casino in Pennsylvania and SugarHouse is fourth and climbing, and combined, SugarHouse and Rivers eclipse all other casinos in the state in revenue. Because they are a two-headed-monster, Rush Street should be able to challenge juggernaut Parx as the top online gambling brand in the state; the other Pennsylvania juggernaut, Sands, is unlikely to launch an online gambling site in Pennsylvania due to Sheldon Adelson's steadfast opposition to online gambling. Also to its advantage, Rush Street is using software that was built in-house, so it won't have to find an online partner, and it won't have to split revenue/profits with said partner. This means Rush Street casinos will have more skin in the online gambling game, and it won't have to coordinate marketing and promotions with an iGaming partner. Rush Street in New YorkThe New York Senate passed a bill that would have legalized online poker this year, but the Assembly decided not to act on it. It's widely believed they will revisit online poker in 2017. If Pennsylvania gets a bill passed this year it should help spur on New York, and if New York does legalize online poker in the near future (I know, that's a lot of if's) Rush Street would likely be an online gambling leader in the northeast, with access to about 40 million US residents in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Rush Street in IllinoisIt may not be as far along in the online gambling process, but Illinois is one of Five States to Watch in 2017, largely based on the state's success with online lottery sales. Rush Street in Massachusetts?Finally, a Rush Street casino project in Massachusetts may be resurrected if the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is unable to gain the proper approval to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts - the Rush Street project in Brockton looked like it would be awarded the state's third and final casino license, but was shot down by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission when the Mashpee Tribe began construction on a casino in nearby Taunton. The Rush Street project could be back on the table depending on how the Mashpee Wampanoag case shakes out in court. Massachusetts is on everyone's short-list of potential online gambling candidates. Will the Golden Nugget deal extend beyond New Jersey and Pennsylvania?In addition to its Atlantic City property, Landry's (the parent company of Golden Nugget) operates several other casino around the country in the following states: Nevada Louisiana Mississippi You'll notice there is very little overlap between Rush Street properties and Golden Nugget properties. If either company were interested in expanding its online gambling footprint in the US, it's possible Rush Street and Golden Nugget could extend their relationship beyond New Jersey and Pennsylvania, assuming future online gambling bills in these other states allow for such partnerships. And assuming both parties found the deal mutually beneficial.
  13. [caption width="640"] Pennsylvania may be the next state to make online poker legal.[/caption] Lawmakers in several states managed to do the impossible; they kept online poker supporters glued to their computers and mobile devices to watch live streams of the tedious and confusing goings on that takes place during legislative sessions, as two legislative bodies voted on and passed an online gaming bill, the New York State Senate and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, while two others have online gaming legalization on their radar, California and Michigan. Also of note, a Massachusetts committee approved a bill that would allow the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to sell tickets, and introduce games online. To put this in perspective, over the course of the previous five years, only four other states managed to pass an online gaming bill through at least one house of their legislature. And of the four, three now have legalized online gambling -the lone exception was Iowa. The Iowa Senate passed an online poker legalization bill in 2012 that died in the Iowa House of Representatives. Without further adieu, here's where online gambling legalization efforts stand in Pennsylvania, New York, California and Michigan. Pennsylvania on the precipice Pennsylvania continues to be the odds on favorite to legalize online gambling in 2016. Online gaming, along with a host of other gaming reforms, is being used by the legislature to help fund the state's 2016/2017 budget. As a key funding component, the bill, HB 2150 was passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and seems better than 50/50 to pass this year. The passage of HB 2150 by the House, came after a protracted battle over VGT expansion, as some members of the Pennsylvania House wanted to allow taverns and bars to install up to five Video Gaming Terminals. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted down the bar/tavern VGT amendment and passed an omnibus gaming reform bill by a 114-85 majority, sending it to the State Senate for consideration. Among its provisions, the bill legalizes online gambling and daily fantasy sports. The Senate has yet to consider the bill (it's been languishing in the Senate CERD Committee since it passed the House), and the latest rumors coming out of the halls of Harrisburg indicate the Senate will forego the House bill and introduce their own gaming reform bill. This will almost assuredly slow down the process, and could potentially derail online gambling legalization if the Senate and House can't come to an agreement on the specifics. The Senate bill is expected to be introduced after the holiday weekend. While not online poker related, another interesting development to keep an eye on in the Golden State was the recent decision by the California Bureau of Gambling Control that will require California's licensed card rooms to adjust the way they offer player banked casino games such as blackjack and pai gow poker.
  14. [caption width="640"] While Pennsylvania has decided not to regulate online gaming in 2016, Michigan just might pull it off[/caption] The calendar has now been flipped to December, and barring a Christmas miracle in Michigan, it's starting to look like 2016 will end without a new state joining the legal online gambling ranks. Despite momentum and legislative progress in several states, when 2017 begins, the number of states with legal online gambling industries will still be stuck at three - Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. To add insult to injury, rumors of a lame duck RAWA (Restoration of America's Wire Act) push have begun making the rounds. Pennsylvania runs out of timeBarring a special session, the Pennsylvania Senate has decided to kick the can down the road when it comes to legalizing online gambling in the Keystone State. The 2015/2016 session came to a close on Wednesday without passage of HB 2150, a bill that would fix the local tax share issue caused by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in September, legalize online gambling, and make a few other less significant gaming changes. The local tax share fix will still need to be addressed in early 2017, but handshake agreements between casinos and local municipalities has made the matter less urgent than was first reported, and the matter could be pushed back as far as April. The local tax share will have to be addressed at some point, but the appetite for online gambling is less clear and now that it has spilled over into 2017, fraught with uncertainty. There are a number of questions that we really don't know the answer to: Will the incoming members of the legislature be fully up to speed on the issue and hold similar views? Will the contentious VGT's in bars and taverns rear its head in 2017? Will the House of Representatives continue to try to tie the two issues (local tax share and online gambling) together? Will the legislature come up with an alternative way to raise the $100 million earmarked for the budget from online gambling? Further complicating matters, the biggest proponent of legal online gambling, Representative John Payne, will be leaving office at the end of the year, and while several other people could pick up his mantel (Representative George Dunbar and Representative Rosita Youngblood come to mind), Payne's departure leaves a major void. Bottom line: Pennsylvania has gone from sustained positive momentum in 2016 to uncertainty in 2017. Hope still remains in MichiganWith Pennsylvania in stasis, the focus has now shifted to Michigan. For several months we've been saying that if online gambling in Michigan is in play, it will happen post-election. The Michigan legislature is still in session, and will be for the next few weeks. The Poker Players Alliance and other online gambling supporters are calling on the community to contact their legislators: But other sources say have indicated the cake isn't done baking just yet, with the caveat that there is still time to get it passed this year: But time is running out to get the bill passed in 2016. Lame ducks, RAWA, and OLC opinionsDon't look now, but with another lame duck session on the horizon, rumors of Congress sneakily passing an online gambling ban have returned. Websites from Forbes, to Reason, to Watchdog.org (here, here, and here) have started ringing alarm bells and warning of the possibility, hearkening back to a 2014 attempt to get RAWA inserted into the massive CRomnibus spending bill - an attempt that eventually failed. Further down the road, there is also some consternation within the online poker community that an online gambling prohibition could be enacted under Donald Trump. Namely, that Trump's Attorney General (Trump nominated Jeff Sessions for the post) might revisit the 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion penned by US Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz. The opinion reversed a nine year policy at the DOJ that the 1961 Wire Act applied to all forms of online gambling - Seitz's opinion narrowed the scope of the Wire Act as it pertains to online gambling to sports betting, and opened the door for states to legalize online casino, online poker, and online lottery within their borders.
  15. [caption width="640"] There's a chance that California could regulate online poker this week.[/caption] After being put on hold in June, the California legislature could act on Assemblyman Adam Gray's online poker this week, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation. In a recent Los Angeles Times articles, Assemblyman Adam Gray's chief of staff Trent Hager said the bill will go to the Assembly floor on Monday. Whether or not this actually happens, and whether or not it results in debate or a vote is unclear. The renewed interest in the bill stems from changes to the bill's suitability language (several sources have confirmed the existence of the new suitability proposal), that the bill's author, Assemblyman Adam Gray, hopes will mollify the coalition of tribes that stand in opposition to AB 2863. With the legislative session coming to a close at the end of the month, and plenty of non-online poker legislation still needing to be tackled, this is likely the last attempt the legislature will make to pass an online poker bill this year. Here's what to watch for this week. What happens on MondayThe first thing to keep an eye on is if AB 2863 is actually brought to the Assembly floor on Monday. In his statement to the LA Times, Hager didn't say he expects the bill to be brought to Assembly floor on Monday, he said the bill "will be brought up on the Assembly floor Monday," according to the LA Times. It would be a bad sign if Monday comes and goes without any action, and it would likely be a death blow if we're still waiting for something to happen when next Monday rolls around. The needle that needs to be threadedThe most important thing to keep an eye on is the new suitability language, and how the different factions react to it. Based on several conversations I've had, the new, yet to be unveiled, amendment will purportedly push the suitability needle towards the Pechanga coalition. If this is the case, and if the amended suitability language tips the scales too far in Pechanga's favor, Gray runs the risk of losing the support of PokerStars and its coalition of allies. Essentially, if Pechanga and its affiliated tribes come on board and PokerStars and its allies reject the new proposal, Gray is simply replacing one opposition group with another. The only way this wouldn't be the case is if members of the PokerStars coalition peeled off, which seems unlikely considering there have been very few cracks in the coalition up to this point, with the only cause for concern coming from the San Manuel tribe in the wake of former Amaya CEO David Baazov being charged with insider trading. Furthermore, Pechanga and its allies getting their way on suitability language doesn't necessarily mean they're on board with the bill, which makes it even less likely the PokerStars coalition would splinter. Support, or something short of support?On this same line, another thing to watch for is whether Pechanga and its allies support the bill, or if they merely drop their opposition and revert to their previous neutral position. It should also be noted that "support" is a relative word in California politics. Over the past several years different tribes and card rooms have supported different online poker bills without actually signing off on the bill. For some stakeholders, support is for the direction the bill is moving; it doesn't mean they support it as a finished product. Beyond suitabilityFinally, keep an eye on what non-suitability concerns are raised. A number of tribes still seem concerned over the taxation rate and licensing fees, not to mention the size of the subsidy that has been earmarked for the horseracing industry. The suitability language is certainly the most difficult needle to thread, but it's not the only remaining obstacle. As an analogy, plenty of people have survived Heartbreak Hill, arguably the hardest stretch of the Boston Marathon that runners face 20 miles into the race, but failed to cross the finish line. A number of unanswered questionsThe overarching question is, will the new amendment result in Adam Gray's online poker bill passing the California Assembly, or is it merely California's yearly ritual of raising the hopes of the poker community before pulling the rug out from underneath them? On a micro level, there are even more questions: What does the new suitability language say, and is it really a compromise both sides can live with? If it's not amenable to certain key stakeholders, do the current coalitions emerge intact, or will there be movement? Is the suitability language a fully cooked compromise, or like many other aspects of the bill, just an agreeable starting point for further discussions? And if the bill passes the Assembly, what happens in the Senate? Hopefully, some of the questions will be answered this week.
  16. As Pennsylvania continues to discuss the specifics of an online gaming framework in the state, a new bill and continued debate over proposed tax rates have taken center stage. On April 4, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passedH 271, which legalizes tablet gaming in airports. Although this bill only authorizes tablet gaming, legislators see this as their path to becoming the fourth state to legalize online gaming since 2013. Pennsylvania Rep. George Dunbar recently told PocketFives that the ball was in the Senate’s court when it comes to finalizing the deal for online gaming and that’s exactly what H 271 represents. By passing H 271 without many details on online gaming, the House is allowing the Senate to essentially fill in the blanks with their preferred options on an online gaming market. Once the Senate can agree on their framework for online gaming and pass a bill, it will then be kicked back over to the House for final approval. As the Senate continues to mull it options, there are a couple of factors that could trip up the process. Could the Tax Rate Cause Trouble? The Senate continues to have a number of gambling options on the table, including aspects from one proposal introduced by Sen. Thomas Killon. This bill is identical to the original gaming bill proposed by Dunbar in the house. Additionally, Sen. Jay Costa has introduced a gaming bill and one of the biggest differences between these two proposals is the tax rate. Costa has proposed a 25 percent tax rate, which is nearly twice as high as Dunbar and Killon’s 14 percent proposal. The higher the tax rate, the more concern that iGaming may not be sustainable in Pennsylvania. To further complicate matters, a new threat, in the form of an even higher tax rate, has emerged. OnlinePokerReport.com has recently reported that Republican Sen. Tommy Tomlinson is trying to rally colleagues to support an online tax rate equivalent to what land-based casinos pay – 54 percent for slots and 16 percent for table games. If Tomlinson’s advocacy gains enough momentum, it may be enough to quelch any prospect of an iGaming market in Pennsylvania. With deliberations ongoing, the Senate is expected to vote on online gaming within the next two weeks. Video Game Terminals Also on the Docket Another potential speed bump for online gaming in Pennsylvania could be a proposal for video game terminals (VGT) in bars, private clubs, and other places around the state. This has been a topic discussed and rejected previously, but reports show that the effort may have more support this time around. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, there is an estimated more than 40,000 illegal VGTs throughout the state and supporters of VGT legislation are looking to regulate and tax this underground market. But for casinos, the fear is how these VGTs would presumable eat away at their bottom line. There’s a lot for Pennsylvania lawmakers to dig into and time is starting to run short. May 26 would appear to be the deadline for lawmakers as that is the date that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave lawmakers to fix the local tax share on slot machines after it ruled the current setup to be unconstitutional.
  17. [caption width="640"] Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering a ban on online gaming.[/caption] During his confirmation hearing in early January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’d be open to revisiting the Justice Department’s interpretation of the Wire Act, which allowed states the opportunity to legalize online gaming. Just three months later, it appears Sessions may be following through with that intention. Within the past two weeks, the National Governors Association and the Poker Players Alliance have publicly expressed their opposition to any move from Sessions that could ban online gaming or internet lottery sales. John Pappas, Executive Director of the PPA, said that it was known all along that federal action on online gaming was a possibility, but over the past week, he and others began hearing from sources within government agencies that a decision may be forthcoming. In response, the PPA ratcheted up their advocacy efforts by asking poker players to reach out to Sessions voicing their opposition. “It’s unclear where things stand today, but I certainly believe that our efforts over the last three to five days has probably made an impact,” Pappas said. “Hopefully, at a minimum, we’ve slowed things down and, at best, we’ve stopped it completely.” What Does This All Mean? Even if the Justice Department reverses its previous opinion regarding the Wire Act, in which it stated the act only applied to sports betting, it’s not clear how this would affect the online gaming market in the United States. Despite a change in the opinion, states like Pennsylvania and New York could continue their efforts to introduce online gaming since the Wire Act itself and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which includes an exemption for state regulated activity, remain unchanged. But would the Department of Justice then take legal action against New Jersey, Delaware, or Nevada or states that already offer online lottery sales? No one is really sure what would come next, but for Pappas, the biggest impact would be a “chilling effect” that this move could have on states that are currently pursuing online gaming. By creating a gray area in which there is confusion over whether states are able to pursue online gaming, this action by Sessions could effectively halt much of the progress made in 2017. “We don’t want to give Pennsylvania lawmakers, New York lawmakers, or Michigan lawmakers any excuse not to do the right thing,” Pappas said. National Governors’ Association Also Opposed The PPA isn’t alone in their opposition to a potential reversal on the Justice Department’s opinion regarding the Wire Act. On April 3, the National Governors Association sent a letter to Sessions outlining their opposition to any federal legislative or administrative action that would ban online Internet gaming and Internet lottery sales. Signed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, the letter states: “The regulation of gaming has historically been addressed by the states. While individual governors have different views about offering gaming – in a variety of forms – within their own states, we agree that decisions at the federal level that affect state regulatory authority should not be made unilaterally without state input. A strong, cooperative relationship between the states and federal government is vital to best serve the interests of all citizens.” What Can You Do? The PPA has developed a letter that you can easily send to the Attorney General, voicing your support for states to make the decision on whether to offer online gaming. Simply enter your name, email address, and zip code to send this letter to the Attorney General’s office. With the future of online gaming in question, reaching out to government officials is an incredibly effective way of voicing your opinion on the matter.
  18. [caption width="640"] Rep. George Dunbar is one of the key figures in pushing online poker regulation forward in Pennsylvania (photo supplied)[/caption] As the Pennsylvania legislature continues to consider the prospects of online gaming, the sponsor of the House bill to legalize iGaming remains confident. Rep. George Dunbar, who has sponsored online gaming legislation in each of the past two years, described the process as being similar to “pushing a rock up a mountain” at times, but the work to legalize online gaming in the Keystone State is almost complete. “I still believe that by the end of May this will be done,” said Dunbar. “I really believe that all things are in place right now. The ball solely rests in the Senate’s hands.” Last year, online gaming legislation passed in the state House of Representatives and Dunbar said he has “no qualms” about it passing again. Pennsylvania has been viewed as more likely than not to pass online gaming legislation this year and a joint hearing on March 7 between the state’s House and Senate committees which oversee gaming was seen as another step in the right direction. The marathon four-hour hearing included testimony from those for and against online gaming and while Dunbar said some of the speakers early in the meeting just wanted to “blow it up”, he believed that after all parties spoke, the meeting ended up being pretty balanced. Among those who testified opposing online gaming were Bob Green and Anthony Ricci, the chairman and CEO of Parx Casino, Pennsylvania’s most profitable casino. In their testimony, Parx argued that online gaming, and the lower tax rate that would be applied to online games would lead to a decline in casino tax revenue. They cite the statistic that two-thirds of Pennsylvanians live within 25 miles of a casino and believe that online gaming would just keep them home instead of visiting their local casino. But Parx is one of the only casinos in the state opposed gaming expansion as a number of casinos, including representatives of Harrah’s, SugarHouse, and Valley Forge, testified in support of it. “The reality is everyone has a motivation for something and you have to look for what that motivation is. They (Parx) already have the largest market share in the state and they don’t want to change that,” Dunbar said. “My fear is that if you don’t change you’re going to end up like Atlantic City.” The Associated Press recently reported that the availability of online gaming in New Jersey has continued to benefit Atlantic City casinos two months into 2017. As Pennsylvania continues to move forward with deliberations on online gaming, the potential sale of Sands Bethlehem is also seen as positive momentum. Sheldon Adelson, owner of Sands Bethlehem, has been the most vocal critic of online gaming expansion across the country. “Everyone is very much aware of what is going on there,” Dunbar said of his fellow legislators. “Squelching Adelson will certainly help pass it.” While there are no hearings or votes on online gaming currently scheduled, expect there to be more action in the coming weeks. Additionally, just prior to March 7 hearing, four senators introduced a bill to legalize online gaming that is identical to Dunbar’s bill in the House. Projections Positive for Pennsylvania As Pennsylvania continues to debate online gaming, two reports have shed light on the projected windfall for the Keystone State. The Innovation Group, who presented their projections at the joint hearing on online gaming, projects Pennsylvania to bring in $413.8 million in 2019, which if approved would be Pennsylvania’s second year in the market. Meanwhile, a report published by Online Poker Report and Play Pennsylvania takes a more cautious approach. They’ve projected Pennsylvania to generate $259 million in revenue in 2019, about $155 million less than the Innovation estimate.
  19. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Sen. Mario Scavello believes an iGaming bill could pass in Pennsylvania this year.[/caption] Momentum is building in Pennsylvania for the passing of an online gaming expansion bill in 2017. After iGaming legislation passed in the state’s House of Representatives in 2016, the action stalled in the Senate, as they didn’t take up the issue. This year, though, Senate members are already discussing a framework for iGaming legislation. Sen. Mario Scavello, chairman of the critical Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, recently told the Tribune-Review that he expects an iGaming bill to pass the House and Senate in March. “It looks like online gaming has the support to pass,” Scavello said. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa has already announced his intentions to introduce legislation that would legalize online gaming and daily fantasy sports in the Keystone State. Costa’s early proposal would accomplish three things: Legalize internet gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) in the state Re-enact the slot machine gaming local share provisions declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Authorize the State lottery to increase revenues for senior citizen programs paid out of the state lottery fund In the report by the Tribune-Review, Costa told reporters that legalizing online gaming represents the natural progression of gaming in the Keystone State. “To some degree, both (iGaming and DFS) are already present, particularly in fantasy sports. What we’re doing is regulating it,” he said. “I think the people of Pennsylvania believe this is something that’s appropriate right now.” While it appears likely that iGaming will pass, it could come at a cost for DFS operators. If Costa’s proposal moves forward, it includes a $2.5 million licensing fee and 25 percent tax on revenue from DFS operators. For comparison, Florida is also considering a DFS bill that would include an initial license application fee of $500,000 and an annual renewal fee of $100,000. Over on the House side, Rep. Rosita Youngblood has been a strong supporter of iGaming legislation in recent years. Youngblood plans to co-sponsor legislation in this session which builds upon what was passed last year, according to Bill Thomas, Executive Director of the Representative’s office. Thomas added that Youngblood is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects of online gaming this year after seeing the early movement in the Senate. John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance, shares the optimism of Pennsylvania lawmakers saying the PPA believes an online gaming bill will be passed this year. “With Pennsylvania, it’s always been a when, not an if,” he said.
  20. [caption width="640"] West Virginia lawmakers have taken the first step towards legalizing online poker - but don't expect them to take the second any time soon.[/caption] West Virginia is the seventh state to introduce online gaming legislation in 2017, but with the legislative session winding down – it ends in just two weeks – the proposal from Del. Shawn Fluharty isn’t expected to garner enough support in 2017. Instead, it should be seen as a conversation starter for online gaming in the state moving forward. Fluharty, a Democrat, recently introduced House Bill 3067, a bill that would allow West Virginia’s five casinos to offer online gaming. In an email, Fluharty said he introduced online gaming legislation because he believes the West Virginia gaming industry needs to evolve as neighboring states continue to expand their gaming options. Fluharty has also introduced a bill to legalize sports betting at licensed gaming facilities in West Virginia. “Online gaming and sports betting would allow for our state to compete at the highest level and derive increased revenue in a very budget-strapped state,” Fluharty said, noting West Virginia’s projected $500 million budget deficit. “It’s important that we focus on new revenue streams instead of simply reverting to the old playbook of raising taxes and these particular pieces of legislation represent new revenue streams.” Fluharty’s online gaming proposal includes a licensing fee of $50,000 and a 14 percent tax rate on gaming revenue. For comparison, Pennsylvania is considering a licensing fee upwards of $10 million and tax rate between 14 and 25 percent, while legislation in New York includes a $10 million licensing fee and 15 percent tax rate. The bill from Fluharty also includes language for approving interstate compacts with other states that offer online gaming. The bill is pending in the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee, which Fluharty serves as Minority Vice Chair. But Fluharty is realistic about his online gaming bill’s chances in 2017, noting that it is unlikely that House leadership will even pick up his legislation this session. “By introducing the legislation and showing the economical benefit, it helps spur conversation and gain momentum for future passage,” he said. “ It’s hard to ignore facts for too long, even in politics, so I am hopeful this will get the ball rolling and help legislators realize we need this legislation to benefit our state.” In fact, Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead has already come out against the proposal. Jared Hunt, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead told GamblingCompliance.com in an email “The speaker does not support the bill.” Although Fluharty’s proposal isn’t expected to gain much traction this year, it may come up again in the near future as West Virginia’s gaming revenues have fallen in recent years due to expanded gaming markets in neighboring states. In January 2017, West Virginia saw a 15.22 percent decrease in gaming revenue compared to 2016. The drop in revenue is, in part, due to the opening of MGM National Harbor in Maryland, just a little over an hour’s drive from the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia. Fluharty, who represents Ohio County along the Pennsylvania border, noted that he has followed Pennsylvania’s online gaming discussions very closely and that did factor into his decision to introduce his bill. “Obviously, I want to incentivize residents of Pennsylvania coming to West Virginia,” he said. “If we can jump on these opportunities before Pennsylvania and Maryland, then West Virginia can benefit before the inevitable passage by our competitors.”
  21. [caption width="640"] Online poker players need to be heard in states considering online poker legislation and we show you how.[/caption] 2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the prospects of online poker as three states – Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania – are all taking steps to legalize online poker. Meanwhile, a handful of other states, including California, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, are considering online gaming legislation, although they have not progressed as far as the others. While talks are trending in the right direction in Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania, it’s far from settled that any of these three states will soon offer residents the chance to play legal online poker. No state has legalized online poker since 2013 and if legislators in one of these three states approve online poker legislation, they may just serve as an incentive for other states to follow suit. Then, that could potentially lead to more intrastate online poker opportunities. All in all, it’s a critical time for the expansion of online poker. As these states inch toward legalizing online gaming, you could play an important role and make a difference in helping them cross the finish line. And it just may be easier than you would expect. One of the most effective ways to ensure online poker legislation stays on track is to contact your local representative and express your support for online poker. This could be through a tweet, an email, or a phone call. Here at PocketFives, we’ve made it easy for you to do just that. Pennsylvania online poker players can use this link to find and contact your legislator while New Yorkers can find that information for their state right here. By sending a short email or making a phone call to your representative to express your support for online gaming legislation, you can lend your voice to supporting the fight for legalizing online poker in just a couple of minutes. Another avenue to support the fight for online poker is through the Daily Action Plan organized by thePoker Players Alliance. The PPA provides a message template and direct links to contact state and federal legislators regarding online poker legislation. This simple act of reaching out to your representative can have a significant impact, according to Rich Muny, Vice President of Player Relations at the PPA. While some people may believe politicians only listen to lobbyists, it’s much more complex than that. “Lawmakers are bombarded from all sorts of lobbyists on this issue, but they need to know where the people, their constituents, stand,” Muny said. In terms of the most effective way to communicate with your state representative, Muny said the answer could be different for everyone. “I think everyone should try to visit their lawmaker, at least in their local office. It’s kind of easy to do,” he said, adding that if you can’t fit in a personal visit, a phone call is also very important. Finally, the number one thing to include in any messaging to lawmakers is your support for online poker, but without presenting your viewpoint in an insulting way. Another tip from Muny is to address a lawmaker depending upon their political party. For example, a Republican legislator may be more inclined to support online gaming if it's framed as a state’s right issue, whereas a Democrat may be more interested in hearing about the topic from a consumer protection perspective. Whether your representatives are Democrat or Republican, it’s important to reach out to them, as the collective voice of poker players may just be the tipping point in expanding online poker. Please contact your state officials to support the legalization of online poker and be sure to check back to PocketFives to follow all of the developments from around the country in regards to online poker legislation.
  22. [caption width="640"] As the calendar turns to 2017, Pennsylvania is still a must-watch state for iGaming regulation.[/caption] Like years past, 2016 came and went without another state legalizing online gaming. Despite some serious hope in Michigan and Pennsylvania that an online gaming bill would pass in either state during the legislative session, the fact remains that no state has legalized online gaming since Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey did so in 2013. And with Donald Trump elected as president, there is some concern that a federal online gambling ban, possibly in the form of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), may be in the cards. Pennsylvania In 2016, Pennsylvania was one of the states closest to passing online gaming legislation. The state’s House of Representatives passed a gaming expansion bill, but Pennsylvania’s efforts to legalize online gaming were put on hold after the state Senate decided not to move forward with the legislation. Although there was no action on this issue in 2016, a recent report from the Associated Press predicted that lawmakers would take a close look at a plethora of casino-related legislation during the first week of January, including the potential for casinos to launch online gambling sites. Michigan Like Pennsylvania, there was hope in Michigan that 2016 could’ve been the year that saw online gaming legislation passed. Although there was a chance for a late December decision on the state’s online gambling bill, Michigan enters 2017 without approving online poker. Michigan already offers lottery games over the internet, approved in 2014, and the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee approved the legislation in June. Despite legislative sessions up until the third week in December, no action was taken on the online gaming bill. While Michigan will presumably take another look at online gaming in 2017, some concern out of Michigan comes from the fact that Attorney General Bill Schuette was one of 10 attorneys general to sign a letter to President-elect Trump urging him to restore the 1961 Wire Act (RAWA), which would ban online gaming nationwide. New York Similar to Michigan and Pennsylvania, online gaming legislation was passed in one house of the New York legislature, but stalled in the other. The New York Senate passed a bill to legalize online poker, but the state assembly never acted on the legislation despite advocacy from Sen. John Bonacic. Discussion around online poker could resurface in 2017, making New York another state with the potential to legalize online poker in the coming year. Massachusetts The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has ordered a study of online gambling, including poker, gaming, lottery, and daily fantasy sports. The report is expected to be completed in July 2017. Although that doesn’t leave much time for online gaming legislation to be passed in 2017, Massachusetts is another state expected to make progress in the new year. California For years, California has discussed legalizing online poker, but stakeholders continue to grapple for position in what is a billion dollar industry. In 2016, a bill by Assemblyman Adam Gray that proposed state internet poker licenses to card rooms and the 60 Native American tribes that operate casinos passed in a state committee. But the legislation failed to find traction on the Assembly floor. Like the others, California failed to legalize online poker in 2016, but 2017 could tell a different story. Federal Legislation At the federal level, the election of Donald Trump has brought some concern over the future of online gambling. Republicans could potentially look to pass the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which prevent states from setting their own online gaming rules. In addition to RAWA, Pennsylvania Republican Representative Michael Fitzpatrick has introduced a similar piece of legislation in the House that would ban online poker and lotteries at the federal level. This legislation follows a petition signed by 10 state attorneys general to President-Elect Donald Trump to impose a federal ban on online gambling. Whether President-Elect Trump chooses to pursue such a course of action in his first year in office remains to be seen.
  23. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Online poker players in Pennsylvania got some great news on Thursday.[/caption] Well Pennsylvania online poker players, all you need now is an autograph from Governor Tom Wolf and you'll be well on your way to playing regulated online poker soon. By a vote of 109-72, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Bill 271, effectively regulating online poker, casino games and daily fantasy sports in the Keystone State. The bill now heads to the Governor's office for a signature to make it law. All expectations are that Wolf will not veto the bill. The news of a fourth US state regulating online gaming was music to the ears of the Poker Players Alliance. “Pennsylvania made the right decision today,” said John Pappas, executive director of PPA. "This is a major victory for consumers who, for years, have asked the state to step up and provide meaningful protections. The iGaming law will also help create new growth opportunities for the Commonwealth’s bricks and mortar casinos while providing needed revenue for the state budget.” There is no timeline for when Pennsylvanians can begin legally check-raising from the comfort of their own home, but many believe mid-2018 to be a reasonable expectation. Thursday's House vote came after the bill was amended and passed by the Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday night. The bill created three separate categories for online gaming licenses; online poker and other player-to-player games, table games, and slot machines. Land-based operators already licensed in Pennsylvania get a 120-day head start on "qualified entities" that may come from out-of-state. Pennsylvania casinos can apply for an interactive gaming license that covers all three categories within the first 90 days at a cost of $10 million. After that time period, the licenses will cost $4 million each. PokerStars, which currently only operates in New Jersey in the United States, was happy to see another state come on board. "We applaud the Pennsylvania Legislature for taking decisive action to legalize online gaming," said Eric Hollreiser, VP of Corporate Communications for PokerStars. "This is commonsense legislation that will protect consumers, help close Pennsylvania’s budget gap, and make the state more competitive within the regional gaming industry. The Stars Group looks forward to working with Pennsylvania and its gaming regulators and competing in the future marketplace." The bill also includes language that should allow Pennsylvania to share player pools with other jurisdictions that offer regulated online gaming. Many industry experts expect Pennsylvania to join the recently-signed agreement between New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware. The bill sets the legal age for PA online casino or poker play at 21 while daily fantasy sports participants need only be 18.
  24. Pennsylvania poker players got the good news Wednesday – the launch of legal, set for July 15. 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. SANDS BETHLEHEM 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.
  25. West Virginia is officially the fifth U.S. state to legalize online gambling. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place Wednesday, as the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act (known as measure HB 2934) passed through the office of Governor Jim Justice without a veto, therefore becoming law. The Governor’s office was the final obstacle in the way of HB 2934, which makes online gambling, including poker, legal within the West Virginia state borders. The bill passed by landslide margins in both the West Virginia state House and Senate, and HB 2934 was sent to the desk of Gov. Justice for approval on March 9. From that date, the Governor had 15 days (excluding Sundays) to officially sign the bill into law, or veto the bill. If Gov. Justice did neither by March 27, the measure would automatically become law. The 15-day deadline came and went, expiring Wednesday with no action from the Governor. The WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act now goes into effect 90 days from this official passing, so theoretically it will be legal to gamble online in West Virginia by late June. In reality, it will almost certainly take longer for the Mountain State’s online gambling operators to get up and running, but as of Wednesday, all legal hurdles have been passed. AVOIDING A LAST-MINUTE VETO Both the state House and Senate overwhelmingly approved HB 2934, with the bill passing by a 72-22 vote in the House in February, and by a 26-7 count in the Senate in March. Despite the major support for online gambling from the state legislature, the final step to legalization was not a sure thing. Michigan went through the same legal process at the end of 2018, with an online gambling bill passing decisively in both the state House and Senate. Much like West Virginia, the bill was one Governor’s signature away from being passed into law, but Gov. Rick Snyder unexpectedly vetoed the bill just days before his gubernatorial term was about to end in December. Supporters of the WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act had to wait out the 15-day deadline to find out if HB 2934 would suffer a similar fate at the hands of Gov. Justice. That wait is now over, and West Virginia joins Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania as U.S. states that can legally offer online gambling. Legalized sports betting passed in similar fashion in West Virginia in March 2018, going into law after Gov. Justice failed to act on the bill. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ONLINE POKER IN WEST VIRGINIA With HB 2934 in place, West Virginia’s five land-based casinos can now apply for interactive gaming licenses, which will allow those casinos to offer online casino games, and poker, in an online format to anyone over age 21. Players must be located within state borders while they play, and as of now all online poker player pools will be confined to only include players from West Virginia. Just three months ago, U.S. poker players had reason to look forward to the possibility of merged player pools forming amongst the states that offered legal, regulated online poker. WSOP/888Poker is already doing this, as players that log on to the WSOP/888 network of sites in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware can compete against the entire combined player pool from the three states. Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as the fourth and fifth states to legalize online gambling, could have played parts in expanding this merged pool even further. In January, however, the U.S. Department of Justice threw a wrench into those plans, issuing a reversal of opinion on the Wire Act and effectively declaring that all gambling transactions that cross state lines are illegal. Unless this changes, West Virginia’s online poker players will only be able to compete against other players within the state. WEST VIRGINIA’S ONLINE POKER OPERATORS Under the rules of HB 2934, five permits for interactive gaming licenses are available statewide, and only the casinos already operating with a land-based license are eligible to apply. Casinos can apply for a permit at a cost of $250,000 for a five-year interactive gaming license, renewable every five years at a price of $100,000. The five land-based casinos in West Virginia include: The Casino Club at the Greenbrier Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races Mardi Gras Casino & Resort Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort Wheeling Island Hotel If the Mountain State’s casinos follow the same path as neighboring state Pennsylvania, major online poker operators like Partypoker, WSOP/888, and PokerStars could form partnerships with these casinos to offer online poker in the state. PokerStars already has an agreement with Eldorado Resorts to operate online poker in the 11 states in which Eldorado Resorts owns properties. Among these 11 states is West Virginia, as the Mountaineer Casino is an Eldorado property. West Virginia has a population of 1.79 million, and legal online gambling could draw increased tourism from neighboring states like Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia. The state will take a 15 percent tax from online gambling revenue. Early estimates indicate that the actual launch of the state’s online gambling and poker sites could happen in late 2019 or early 2020.

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