As we approach the three-month mark for legal online gambling in Pennsylvania, poker players in the state are still twiddling their thumbs and wondering when it will be their turn to play.
Unfortunately, there’s been a gap in the communication about the source of the holdup and when it’s likely to be resolved.
The closest thing we have to concrete information is a series of leaked screenshots of the PokerStars PA test client. From these, it appears that the product offering in Pennsylvania will be similar to New Jersey, though the multi-table tournament schedule in PA may feature lower buy-ins and higher guarantees.
Beyond that, the screenshots give us little, apart from a reassurance that tech issues likely aren’t the holdup for PokerStars PA.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has done its best to keep the public informed of the situation. However, it’s limited in what it can disclose without violating operator privacy.
When asked about a launch date by PlayPennsylvania earlier this month, spokesperson Douglas Harbach said only that the PGCB believes “one of the operators should be in a position in the very near future to begin offering poker.” Other than that, regulators have no definitive timeline.
Even if we assume that the operator in question in PokerStars, this doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know.
We can, however, look at recent events in the neighboring NJ online gambling market for clues about what to expect in Pennsylvania. For the most part, the same companies operate in both states.
Although New Jersey is a considerably better-established, its population makes it a smaller market than Pennsylvania. That means that there are fewer unknowns, and the stakes are slightly lower.
For many operators, including The Stars Group (TSG), it makes sense to roll out new products in New Jersey first.
We saw this with the new Fox Bet sports betting platform, for instance, which replaced the existing StarsBet product. It debuted in NJ at the end of August, then launched in PA a week later.
There was a small, but potentially significant development this week in that regard. The Fox Bet mobile app in New Jersey added a tab for PokerStars Casino games and advertised it to customers by way of a push notification.
The addition answers one important question: Cross-selling between PokerStars NJ products and Fox Bet will, apparently, be a bilateral effort.
When Fox Sports and TSG announced their partnership in May, they made no mention of gambling beyond sports betting. Some speculated that Fox might be worried about other forms of gambling being incompatible with its brand and tarnishing its image in the eyes of viewers.
That would seem not to be the case, though it’s significant to note that the games are still branded as PokerStars Casino (and not Fox Casino).
In the early days of PA online gambling, there were rumors that PokerStars was waiting for TSG to synchronize its launch across all verticals. That seemed to go out the window when Fox Bet rolled out without PokerStars, but this latest development breathes some new life into the theory.
If the delay is on the Stars Group’s end rather than PGCB’s, it may be that TSG decided that getting the Fox Bet platform out for the beginning of the NFL season was paramount. But it may still want to synchronize the launch of its casino and poker verticals.
Getting approval — whether from the regulator or from Fox Sports — to integrate PokerStars Casino into the Fox Bet client may be a hold-up in that regard.
Just as the replacement of BetStars with Fox Bet in New Jersey foretold the Pennsylvania launch a week later, it could be that the integration of PokerStars Casino into Fox Bet NJ means the same is coming to PA. And if the company does want to launch PokerStars and its associated casino in tandem, both could arrive together.
This is all speculative, of course, but it seems to make a certain amount of sense.
Meanwhile, a potential rival for PokerStars in Pennsylvania is moving in the opposite direction.
Parx Casino, located just outside of Philadelphia, was an exception to the general rule that PA operators are the same as those next door. As of this week, however, that is no longer true. Parx just launched its NJ online casino in the Garden State in conjunction with GAN.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Parx has designs on becoming a national brand, though it might. The Philly casino is located just across the river from New Jersey and within an easy drive of Atlantic City, so expect to see some overlap between customers gambling online in New Jersey and in-person at Parx.
This, too, is significant to poker.
Parx is known, among other things, for being one of the best destinations for live poker on the east coast. It’s kind of a wild card for online poker in that regard, as neither Parx nor GAN has any history there. Yet the Parx brand is widely recognized and respected in the US poker community.
It seems unlikely that Parx plans to synchronize a poker launch between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or even to launch in New Jersey at all.
The NJ online poker market is fairly saturated as it is, and a Parx platform may have a hard time getting enough traffic to be sustainable. If Parx has any plans for online poker in New Jersey, it would probably be contingent on Pennsylvania opening itself to shared liquidity with other states that have legalized online poker.
That said, the launch of the Parx online casino in New Jersey is still relevant in that it’s one less item on the to-do list. Unlike TSG and some other competitors in Pennsylvania, the Parx platform is brand new. That means a lot of work and a lot of juggling of priorities.
We don’t know how far down that list online poker is, but each item scratched off represents a new chance that poker becomes the next priority. Certainly, Parx has a better chance of succeeding in the Pennsylvania online poker market if it launches before things get crowded.
As it stands, there are three online casinos and five online sportsbooks operational in Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania was initially supposed to have eight casinos and nine sportsbooks, plus up to seven options for poker before the end of the year. None of that looks likely the way things are going, but it’s still a good bet that the PokerStars/Fox Bet duo will get all three verticals up and running before the year is out.