PokerStars remains online PA online poker site for now
Online Poker Report

PA Online Poker Bubble Bursts: Hopes Of Partypoker Launch On Hold For Now

Partypoker bubble burst

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) had its monthly meeting on Wednesday. Two important iGaming companies received their permanent licenses, but one expected inclusion on the docket turned out to be absent.

Last month’s meeting included the settlement of a minor legal issue relating to Roar Digital, the company under which MGM Resorts International conducts its online operations. At the time, Chief Enforcement Counsel Cyrus Pitre said he expected that this meant the company would get its licensing hearing at the following meeting.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case. BetMGM and any other brands sharing its license – possibly including Partypoker – will have to wait until at least September to launch in the Keystone State.

Unibet and Evolution now fully licensed

The PGCB conducted the meeting online, as it has each month since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The first order of business was licensing, which included permanent licenses for Unibet and Evolution Gaming. Each had previously received provisional licenses from the board while waiting for it to complete the requisite investigations.

The board quickly approved both licenses.

In Unibet’s case, this was mostly a formality, as the company’s online sportsbook and casino have been operational in the state since last November. The retail sportsbook it powers at Mohegan Sun Pocono launched two months before that.

Evolution is another story. It holds a monopoly on live dealer gaming in New Jersey and has been planning on extending its empire to Pennsylvania. It already has two customers lined up, having signed deals with Penn National and Parx which cover both states.

Pennsylvania’s regulatory policies require that such games be streamed from within the state, thanks to continuing uncertainty over the Wire Act and how it applies. Evolution has made it clear that it will build a new studio for that purpose, but hasn’t said where, or when it expects to open it. The fact that it has obtained its permanent license may suggest that more news on that front is coming soon.

QGEs still waiting for licenses

Roar Digital is one of two out-of-state “qualified gaming entities” (QGEs) which will eventually receive PA online casino licenses, the other being Golden Nugget. Both are major players in the neighboring New Jersey market.

The PGCB initially allowed for 13 of each type of iGaming license – slots, table games and poker – to match the number of eligible casinos in the state. Only ten casinos elected to purchase licenses, however, so the remainder were offered to QGEs from other states.

Roar opted for a poker license as well, while Golden Nugget passed. BetMGM offers poker in New Jersey as well, as a skin on Partypoker’s network. It’s unknown whether both brands will launch in Pennsylvania. Many assume it will be a single site, using the Partypoker brand.

Before iGaming went live in Pennsylvania last year, the belief was that PartyPoker would launch in partnership with Valley Forge Casino. This was before the PGCB opened up license applications to QGEs, however, and therefore before anyone knew MGM would be present in the state. Given their relationship in New Jersey, it now seems more likely that Partypoker will launch under that license.

Long waits and frustration for PA poker players

Pitre’s comment at the July meeting was exciting for Pennsylvania poker players waiting for an alternative to PokerStars. As popular as that site is, there are many who are eager to see its monopoly broken. It launched in November last year and hasn’t had to face any competition in its first nine months.

That launch was itself overdue. Pennsylvania expected to have a synchronized iGaming launch on July 15 last year. There was a lot of hype surrounding the arrival of legal online poker in the state. It was therefore a huge letdown when only two casinos and no poker rooms were ready on launch day.

Rumors circulated over the next few months, with repeated predictions that PokerStars would be launching in a matter of days or weeks. These only compounded the disappointment when they failed to come true.

It’s been the same story for the other anticipated sites. At the time that PokerStars launched, PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole told OnlinePokerReport that he expected other sites to be able to launch within a month or two. Several other speculative launch dates have come and gone without either Partypoker or WSOP online making their appearance in the state.

Now, more than ever, it seems as if a second Pennsylvania poker site must surely be just around the corner. Yet, with Roar Digital absent from this month’s meeting agenda, it’s now September, rather than August that we have our eye on.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a freelance writer and artist living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has been doing data-based analysis of the online gaming industry since 2016.
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