WSOP, PokerStars are on the way to PA

More Pennsylvania Online Casinos Imminent; Still No Timeline For PA Online Poker

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After what felt like an eternity to some, September may finally be the month that Pennsylvania fully gets the ball rolling for online gambling.

Scientific Games says it expects to launch PA online sports betting on behalf of Caesars Entertainment sometime this month. That might spawn the first PA online casino games, too.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill says that it won’t be long before PokerStars unveils the first online poker site in Pennsylvania.

A disappointing start

The official go-live date for online poker and casino games in Pennsylvania was July 15.

In the lead-up to the big day, some residents and industry-watchers expected multiple operators to launch across multiple verticals. After all, there were almost 18 months of lead time between the bill’s passage and the opening of the launch window.

That announcement came in mid-April, granting operators and regulators another three months to get their ducks in a row. The goal was to prepare for a big, synchronized launch.

Only two operators went live on Day One, though, and only one other joined by the end of the month. As of today, PlaySugarHouse, Parx Casino and Hollywood Casino are the three online casinos serving the PA market.

Caesars Online Casino has been relatively quiet about its timeline to date.

Caesars online casino coming soon?

The news about Scientific Games’ impending launch in Pennsylvania comes at the bottom of a press release dedicated mostly to the expansion of that company’s partnership with Caesars Interactive and their joint launch of sports betting in Indiana. It provides no further details beyond an expected September launch date for “mobile solutions” in Pennsylvania.

There’s a reason to believe that launch in PA might include both casino and sportsbook offerings in tandem.

In New Jersey, the company relies on two separate partners to power its digital portfolio. Scientific Games runs its sportsbooks, while 888 provides an NJ online poker site in conjunction with WSOP NJ.

Caesars, earlier this year, indicated it would use the SG platform at Harrah’s Philadelphia, and the 888 partnership will yield a WSOP-branded Pennsylvania poker site, too.

Four PA online sportsbooks are live today, most of which were already active before July 15. That makes it seem as if there were fewer hurdles for sports betting compared to casino games. That, in turn, makes it possible that licensed operators yet to launch are delaying in order to deploy multiple verticals at once.

PokerStars set for a temporary monopoly

Although Caesars’ sportsbook and casino might appear in Pennsylvania this month, online poker is unlikely. The WSOP/888 partnership is entirely separate from Scientific Games, and 888 executive Yaniv Sherman told Pokerfuse this week that there is “no firm timeline for PA yet.”

Instead, PA online poker players will likely have to be content with a single option at first.

The Stars Group has shown itself to be adept at navigating bureaucratic hurdles in emerging international markets. Given its approach, most expect it to be the first-to-market with poker (and possibly other verticals) in most states as they open.

The Stars Group hasn’t offered many firm details about when to expect PokerStars to debut in the Keystone State. However, Pokerfuse appears to have credible evidence that launch is impending — a screenshot purporting to show the software in the final phases of internal testing.

The group’s new Fox Bet Sportsbook is also live in PA as of last week.

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New Jersey frames PA expectations

In both cases, the products in question should be very similar to what the companies currently offer in New Jersey.

Although the population of Pennsylvania is substantially larger, the screenshot indicates that PokerStars won’t immediately push the envelope. There is no tab for Zoom Poker, for example, the fast-fold game available in markets outside of NJ and India. Zoom traffic is likely not sufficient to sustain the format without the benefits of multi-state poker.

The most obvious difference for players will be in terms of branding, as PA regulations require skins to display the brand of their land-based casino partner. For PokerStars, that partner is Mount Airy. Caesars, of course, bears its interactive license via Harrah’s Philly.

Based on the existing casino products in the market, players may also notice some differences in the details — things like return-to-player percentage for slots and the clearance terms for deposit bonuses — due to the PA tax rate.

If those two companies do ultimately launch this month, that would mean that about half of the PA online gambling operations expected to be live this year would be.

Left to come would be WSOP/888 poker, casino offerings from the Valley Forge/FanDuel partnership (probably including poker by way of partypoker/GVC), plus products from Presque Isle Downs, The Meadows and Mohegan Sun Pocono.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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