Has BetMGM abandoned the qualified gaming entity path to PA?

BetMGM Changes Course In Pennsylvania, Receives Operator Licenses For Interactive Gaming And Sports

The plot thickens in Pennsylvania.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), BetMGM received approval for a pair of operator licenses, one for interactive gaming and the other for sports wagering.

We’ve known for a while now that BetMGM and its parent company Roar Digital were coming to Pennsylvania. The sports wagering operator license is a bit of a surprise, however. That’s because offering such a product would require a change in how Roar operates in the state.

Roar Digital is a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and GVC Holdings. Neither owns a casino in Pennsylvania, but MGM has the Borgata in neighboring New Jersey. Borgata has received a certificate from the PGCB as a qualified gaming entity (QGE), which would allow BetMGM to launch an online casino product without the need for an in-state land-based partner.

QGEs cannot offer sports betting, however. PGCB Communications Director Doug Harbach confirmed to PlayPennsylvania that making use of the sports wagering operator license would require Roar to strike a partnership deal with a local, certificate-holding casino. Harbach said he is not aware of whether the company has struck such a deal.

Roar Digital did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear exactly what MGM’s plans are, and whether it intends to use its sports wagering license immediately, or applied for it on a speculative basis.

In the meantime, however, the company has revealed that it will launch its mobile sportsbook in Tennessee this weekend.

Not many potential partners remaining

While it’s unlikely that BetMGM would have made this move without a plan in mind, it’s slim pickings now for sports betting partners in the Keystone State.

There’s no issue when it comes to interactive wagering, meaning casino and poker. Each eligible PA casino can partner with up to three online brands for these products. However, sports betting certificates are only good for one retail and one online sportsbook. Nearly every casino eligible to launch one has done so already.

The sole exception is Live! Hotel and Casino, owned by The Cordish Companies. It recently launched its online brand, PlayLive!, despite the fact that its principal property in Philadelphia is still in the final stages of construction.

That launch consisted of a casino product only. The assumption at the time was that a similarly branded online sports betting app would soon follow, perhaps alongside the opening of the Philadelphia casino and sportsbook. However, this move by BetMGM raises the possibility that the two are in partnership negotiations.

Since multiple online casino skins are allowed, there’s no conflict between BetMGM’s brand and PlayLive! on that front. However, a contact at Cordish was unaware of any such negotiations, and pointed out that a pre-existing deal with FanDuel could complicate matters, despite the fact that FanDuel has already launched its online sportsbook with Valley Forge.

Other possibilities

Although Live! holds the only unused online sports betting certificate at the moment, it’s far from certain this is where BetMGM is going.

Another possibility is Lady Luck Nemacolin. This casino declined to purchase any sports betting or iGaming certificates at all. Technically, it is now too late for it to do so, but the PGCB could change the rules to allow it.

Finally, it could be the case that BetMGM simply decided to apply for a sports wagering operator license as a forward-looking move. There are a few ways an opportunity could present itself somewhere down the road.

  • An existing operator could go out of business, lose its license or otherwise leave the market
  • Lawmakers could authorize construction of a new casino, perhaps owned by MGM itself
  • It could become possible for the state’s new satellite casinos to offer online sports betting under a different brand from that of their parent casinos

However, any of these scenarios could create logistical problems if BetMGM were already operating its casino product with Borgata as a QGE. There is precedent in New Jersey for companies integrating two products on two different licenses into a single app. Whether the PGCB would allow this is another question, as the situation in New Jersey is based on racetracks being unable to offer products other than sports betting.

In any event, it should become clearer in coming days or weeks what exactly BetMGM has planned.

What does this mean for Partypoker?

Borgata is one of two New Jersey casinos that applied for and received QGE status in Pennsylvania, the other being Golden Nugget. However, Golden Nugget applied for casino certificates only, while Borgata took poker as well.

In New Jersey, Borgata and BetMGM both operate their own poker rooms as skins on Partypoker’s network. Partypoker is owned by GVC, and therefore tightly connected to Roar Digital.

The Borgata brand itself probably won’t appear in Pennsylvania, but a poker product running on Partypoker’s platform is expected. This could be branded as BetMGM Poker, Partypoker, or both brands as skins on the same network.

The general presumption has been that, whatever form it takes, GVC-powered poker would launch at the same time as BetMGM Casino or shortly thereafter. This unexpected change in plans for BetMGM calls that into question. Unfortunately, Partypoker has declined to answer any questions relating to BetMGM’s licensing or its own timeline to launch.

The frustration therefore continues for Pennsylvania poker players waiting for a second option outside of PokerStars. Aside from Partypoker, the other possibility is WSOP. However, it too has been evasive, except to say that it doesn’t expect to launch until next year.

- 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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