BetMGM PA launch includes casino only at first, poker to follow

BetMGM Soft Launches Online Casino In Pennsylvania, Wait Continues For Poker And Sports Betting

BetMGM, the top online casino in New Jersey, has just begun its testing period in neighboring Pennsylvania.

The new online casino has only a few games to start with and limited hours of operation. As is standard in the Keystone State, this soft launch testing period will last for three days.

A full launch will follow on Friday, Dec. 4. This full launch will include an official announcement, round-the-clock operation, and quite likely some additional games.

BetMGM Casino is operated by Roar Digital, a joint venture between GVC Holdings (soon changing its name to Entain) and MGM Resorts International. Representatives of these companies have so far remained quiet about the news, deferring comment until the site leaves the testing phase.

It is the 13th online casino in Pennsylvania, which is quickly catching up with New Jersey in terms of number of active brands.

A market known for delays

Pennsylvania’s iGaming market officially went live last July. It was far from a synchronized launch, however, with only three casinos able to start taking bets in the first week. The next competitors — Unibet and PokerStars/Fox Bet — arrived in November. Since then, new sites have been trickling in on a slow but steady basis.

That gradual rollout, combined with organic growth and US casinos closing in March, has led to rapid and sustained growth. In October, PA online casinos managed to exceed $2.1 billion bets received, almost equally split between table games and slots.

For an operator of its stature, BetMGM’s launch comes extremely late, more than 16 months after the market opened. In large part, this has to do with its initial decision to partner with New Jersey’s Borgata casino — owned by MGM Resorts — rather than a local property. Borgata, along with Golden Nugget, has obtained what the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) calls a “qualified gaming entity (QGE)” certificate. These were made available to out-of-state casinos due to the decision by some eligible in-state operators not to purchase a license.

BetMGM recently reversed that decision, though it’s unclear why. Instead of launching on the Borgata’s certificate, it has partnered with Hollywood Casino, owned by Penn National.

Casino only to start, poker probably coming soon

It’s typically the case that operators launch their online casinos and sportsbooks simultaneously, as a single, integrated app. This is the case with BetMGM in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, however, BetMGM launched as a stand-alone casino app, without an accompanying sportsbook or poker room.

One disadvantage faced by QGEs is that they cannot offer sports betting in PA. However, launching on Hollywood’s certificate doesn’t seem to help on this front. Certificate holders can launch up to three iGaming skins apiece. However, only one online sportsbook is allowed per casino, and Hollywood just launched its own in September.

Update (12/18/2020): On December 18, the company announced the launch of its mobile sportsbook, which had opened for testing the day before. The mystery of how it planned to do so has been solved in the process. Hollywood will be opening a second mini-casino in Morgantown next year. Two days ago, it received a sports betting license for this property, which allows it to launch a second skin, BetMGM’s. This also means that PlayLive! should be able to launch a second skin if it so chooses, thanks to its mini casino in Pittsburgh.

BetMGM can also offer poker, whether on Borgata’s certificate or Penn’s. It hasn’t yet done so but does have a BetMGM Poker skin operating on the Partypoker NJ network, which is itself owned by GVC. Assuming BetMGM does eventually launch online poker in PA, the arrangement will be similar, and BetMGM is presumably waiting for Partypoker to launch its own site first.

Big things ahead for BetMGM

BetMGM is, by some estimates, the highest-earning individual online casino site in New Jersey. It is, at least, the most important skin on Borgata’s license, which is the second largest in the state in terms of revenue after Golden Nugget’s.

However, until very recently, BetMGM hadn’t ventured out of that one state. In September, it went live as the second online casino in West Virginia after DraftKings. That’s a small market, and revenue numbers published by the WV lottery show BetMGM trailing DraftKings.

Much bigger things are ahead, both in Pennsylvania and in Michigan. Each is bigger in terms of population than New Jersey, and also less densely packed with competitors. In Michigan, in particular, BetMGM is expected to be among the first casinos to launch and should be able to grab a large share of the market as a result. This could happen within the next two to three weeks, or in January at the latest. We expect BetMGM poker in Michigan shortly after the launch of sports betting and casino.

- 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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