Three’s A Crowd For Michigan And Pennsylvania Online Poker As WSOP Prepares Its Long-Awaited Expansion

In a first quarter trading update for investors, 888 CEO Itai Pazner said that the company would soon launch online poker in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“We are excited about the US, where we plan to roll out sports into further states in the next few months, and launch our upgraded poker platform into further states in partnership with Caesars and their leading and hugely popular WSOP brand.”

Michigan and Pennsylvania are two states that went all the way when it came to legalizing online gambling. They not only legalized online sports betting, but added online casino and poker to the mix. However, while operators jumped in quickly to the online sports betting market, online poker has followed on at a more sedate pace.

PokerStars initially held a monopoly in both states – for nearly a year and a half in the case of Pennsylvania. BetMGM was second on the scene in both cases, launching first in Michigan then in Pennsylvania in rapid succession this spring.

Now it looks like the Keystone State and the Wolverine State will get to enjoy three-way competition in their online poker markets. In an investor call Pazner said that launch would be in a “couple of months.”

New platform to accompany new launches

WSOP is a longstanding fixture in the US online poker market. As the only operator to actively benefit from the Multi-State Internet Gambling Agreement (MSIGA), it became the top US poker operator by revenue when the market consisted only of New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.

PokerStars overtook WSOP for the top spot after launching in the newer states. Now WSOP is fighting back, with new launches of its own. At the same time, it plans to bring 888’s new Poker8 platform to the US for the first time.

888 credits the Poker8 software with helping it to secure significant growth in the international market. Pazner told investors:

“Poker revenues increased by 10%, and were consistent with the fourth quarter of 2020, with ongoing strong customer reaction to the award-winning Poker8 product, and sustained successful marketing with the “Made to Play” marketing campaign.”

The new platform is at the center of what 888 calls an “entertainment-led mobile first poker offering.” The most immediately visible impact is that players can play online poker in portrait mode on their cell phones. Previously the graphics only allowed landscape mode.

Other entertainment friendly attributes of Poker8 include “throwable items, avatars, emojis, player tags, gift drops.” Less entertaining but perhaps more important is that the new software loads twice as fast as the old client.

Online poker adds value to state regulated online gaming

States that restrict online gaming to sports betting miss out on the extra revenues that online casino and online poker bring. More importantly, they leave part of the market in the hands of offshore operators. European regulators have long realized that channeling players to the legal market means competing with offshore sites. Prices and game offers must be competitive.

Pennsylvania and Michigan joined New Jersey and West Virginia in understanding this dynamic. Online operators also know the commercial value of a fully featured product offering.

For 888, poker is an additional marketing channel that can feed extra revenues to its sports betting and casino products. In the new states, its poker product will serve a similar purpose for its partner Caesars, which owns WSOP. 888 does have plans to launch its sportsbook in additional states, but PA and MI aren’t on the list.

In 2020 new customers for online poker increased by 50%, and 60% for casino. Sports betting was the laggard with growth of only 14%. The new platform is part of a strategy to do even better in the sports betting vertical.

Prospects for MSIGA in Pennsylvania and Michigan

Pennsylvania regulators have said that they are in talks about joining the MSIGA. The law explicitly allows for such interstate player pool sharing. Michigan online poker is in a similar position. The hesitation for both states is the ongoing situation re the DOJ interpretation of the Wire Act.

Two levels of federal courts have now ruled that this interpretation is wrong. All that remains is for the DOJ to either accept the ruling or to try to bring it before the Supreme Court. The Biden administration has implied that it will not do so. That will be the big green light for both states to join the MSIGA, and it could come soon.

If so, 888 and WSOP could look forward to a massively increased player pool for online bracelet events, one of the brand’s biggest selling points.

- A former founder of Poker Industry Pro and Head of Content at PokerNews publisher iBus Media, Joss Wood is a graduate in English from the University of Birmingham. Joss also holds a master’s degree in Organisational Development from the University of Manchester. His career path has taken him from the British Army, through business and finance to seven years as a successful professional poker player.
Privacy Policy