Could a new PA partnership between Borgata and Rivers foreshadow the retirement of the PlaySugarHouse brand?

Borgata Online Casino Arrives In Pennsylvania, Striking A Surprise Partnership With Rivers Casino

Pennsylvania’s latest online casino launched on Wednesday. Borgata Online Casino is available both as a downloadable app for iOS and Android, and on desktop using any major browser.

Borgata is the second online casino in the state to be operated by BetMGM (formerly Roar Digital), a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Entain (formerly GVC). The first, under BetMGM’s own brand, launched in December.

While BetMGM is well on its way to becoming a national brand, Pennsylvania is only the second state for Borgata. Until now, it has existed as an online brand only in New Jersey, where the eponymous Atlantic City casino is located.

“There are few casino brands as well-respected as Borgata, evident by the success we’ve seen with the Borgata Casino app in New Jersey,” said BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt. “Pennsylvania marks an important milestone for us as we introduce the Borgata Casino brand to the first state outside of New Jersey. We’re confident that players in Pennsylvania will enjoy the digital betting experience of Atlantic City’s premier casino.”

Despite being owned by the same company, the two online casinos have different land-based partners. BetMGM operates on the certificate held by Penn National, which operates Hollywood Casino. Conversely, Borgata has partnered with Rivers, which operates two casinos, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Little differentiation between products

The two online casinos share a rewards program, which is called M Life. The program is also tied to both BetMGM’s other digital products and MGM Resorts properties in US and Asia.

The two offer similar games as well, including MGM Grand Millions, a custom slots title with a progressive jackpot. That fact has allowed Borgata to launch with 150 games on offer. In contrast, most new entries to the market go live with just a dozen or so.

Even the layout and functionality of their respective websites and apps are near-identical. Indeed, there’s very little that would induce a player to choose one over the other, except perhaps geography. Neither casino currently offers cash deposits and withdrawals at their partner’s casino cage, but this may come in time.

That said, there is one clear benefit to Pennsylvania players in having both sites available. Despite all the similarities, they are separate sites, which means their welcome bonuses for new casino users are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible to sign up for one site, clear the bonus, then go claim the other as well. These, too, are similar, although not quite identical.

The Borgata signup bonus consists of $20 of free slots play, and a 100% match on a first deposit up to $1000. The BetMGM first deposit bonus is identical, but the bonus cash is a bit more generous at $25, and can be used for either table games or slots.

BetMGM’s approach to PA is mysterious

From a business strategy standpoint, the launch of Borgata Online Casino PA is a bit perplexing. So is the choice of Rivers as its partner for market access.

In New Jersey, having both brands makes sense. BetMGM is the one with national recognition, but Borgata is locally very valuable, as the casino is an iconic and well-loved part of the Atlantic City gambling scene. Next door in Pennsylvania, it’s harder to see why BetMGM would want to divide its marketing efforts in this fashion.

More puzzling still, Borgata already received approval for its own interactive gaming certificate, as an out-of-state qualified gaming entity, or QGE. Initially, BetMGM expected to launch using that certificate. It partnered instead with Penn because QGE status does not allow for sports betting. With this change of plans, it was able to launch its sportsbook through one of Penn’s satellite casinos, Hollywood Morgantown.

Rivers does not have any satellite casinos. Each of its primary casinos can launch one online sportsbook, but both are already in use, as it also has two brands under a single roof: BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse.

This leaves us with a twofold question. Firstly, why Borgata did not ultimately make use of its QGE certificate. If the answer is that it plans on launching a Borgata Sportsbook, then the second question is why it opted for Rivers, which doesn’t seem to be in a position to allow it to do so.

Phasing out of PlaySugarHouse may be the answer

Cost savings is likely part of the reason. A full set of interactive gaming certificates costs $10 million. Although Borgata received approval as a QGE, it may not have paid in full up front. It’s possible that choosing another path to launch will save it some money, and that it expects this to be more than whatever revenue share it has agreed to pay Rivers.

As far as the choice of partner goes, the answer may lie in Rivers’ future plans. Rumor has it that it will soon retire the PlaySugarHouse brand. SugarHouse was the original name of what is now Rivers Casino Philadelphia. Having brought the physical property in line with its national branding, Rivers may no longer have much use for the SugarHouse name.

If Rivers were to migrate current PlaySugarHouse users to its BetRivers site, that would free up a slot for a new online sportsbook. Borgata may be counting on becoming that sportsbook, particularly if Rivers has confirmed to it that this is the plan.

This is all very speculative, of course. However, BetMGM has experienced leadership and isn’t flying by the seat of its pants. If it makes a move that seems surprising, it probably means the company knows something the public doesn’t. Whether or not these guesses proves correct, the real answers should become apparent in due time.

- 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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