Editor’s note: Pennsylvania recently legalized online poker and casino games. This is the next installment in a series of articles about the casinos in Pennsylvania and their possible place in the online gambling market.
Pocono Downs is synonymous with the history of horse racing in Pennsylvania.
Located in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains near Wilkes-Barre, the 5/8-mile harness track opened in 1965. More than 12,000 spectators showed up for the first races, and it remains a popular place to watch the ponies today.
The region has become a hotbed for both equine and auto racing, in fact. Horses run almost 150 race days per year at the Downs, and the nearby Pocono Raceway has hosted annual NASCAR and IndyCar events for years.
The horse track has changed owners a couple times since opening, most recently landing with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.
The tribe purchased the property for $280 million in 2005 with the plan of converting it into a racino. That plan became a reality when slots were installed the following year, and table games were added in 2010. A 238-room hotel tower followed in 2013, making the property a full-fledged resort casino.
The track remains an attraction, but the updated branding highlights a shift toward casino gambling. The tribe initially renamed the property Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, then dropped the track name entirely. It’s now just Mohegan Sun Pocono, and the racing oval is officially The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
The Downs hosts spring and summer harness races, alongside year-round simulcasts from other venues. Its red-clay surface is widely considered one of the fastest and safest in the country for horses.
Mohegan Sun Pocono operates about 2,300 slot machines and 90 tables games, plus an 18-table poker room. It employs close to 1,600 people between its gaming and hospitality operations.
Those numbers are middling by Pennsylvania casino standards, and the same can be said of the property’s revenue. It’s one of six casinos that each control between 7.5 percent and 10 percent of the Pennsylvania market.
That’s not too shabby considering it competes with PA’s largest casinos, Parx and Sands Bethlehem, which both have more-desirable locations. And being in the middle isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, especially with a solid brand and the promise of online gambling.
Mohegan Sun Pocono pulled in more than $250 million in casino revenue during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The Mohegan Tribe has done a good job of keeping up with emerging gambling technology.
Real-money online gambling is illegal in Connecticut, but the tribe’s flagship property does have a social casino. Mohegan Sun also runs daily fantasy sports promotions through a partnership with FanDuel.
The opposite is true in New Jersey. The tribe does not have a land-based property in the state, but it does operate an NJ online casino. MoheganSunCasino.com has been live since 2015 under the Resorts AC license, offering a full slate of casino games.
There’s little doubt the tribe will make a concerted online effort in Pennsylvania. The state just legalized iGaming late last year, so the specifics of the industry are still taking shape. Although Mohegan’s plans aren’t public, we can infer plenty from its efforts and partnerships elsewhere.
As evidence of its attention to online gambling, Mohegan Sun has partnered with the industry’s technological frontrunner.
NYX, which was recently acquired by Scientific Games, provides the backbone for Mohegan’s current products. Its social casino in Connecticut runs on SG’s Play4Fun network, and MoheganSunCasino.com offers New Jersey gamblers a top-tier assortment of slots and other games.
There’s no reason not to expect those relationships to expand into Pennsylvania, too.
Mohegan Sun’s NJ operation is made possible by Resorts, which holds the land-based casino license. The group also carries an online poker agreement with PokerStars, and that trio will likely make its way into the PA online market together.
It could be a nice trade for Resorts, which doesn’t have a property in the Keystone State. Mohegan Sun could, in theory, end up returning the favor from NJ, bearing the land-based license for a Resorts skin in PA.
The Mohegan/Resorts partnership also provides a potential path to entry for PokerStars in PA. It could be a significant entry, too, reaching into a top-ten market with ambitions for multistate poker. It’s still not clear, however, if PokerStars will seek a PA partner or look to scoop up one of the available independent licenses.
Although it doesn’t have a large online gambling presence of its own, Mohegan Sun seems to be well-positioned in Pennsylvania.
First of all, the partnerships and platforms are already in place thanks to its early action in New Jersey. The tribe has been building an online gambling industry for close to three years now, which puts it ahead of some its Pennsylvania neighbors. Choosing NYX/Scientific Games as a software provider was a shrewd move, too.
Because of the above, Resorts will likely reach out to Mohegan Sun seeking to expand the NJ partnership. And The Stars Group may do the same with a PokerStars and/or PokerStarsCasino product.
Past installments of this series: