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Pennsylvania passed a broad gambling expansion bill in 2017 that among its many provisions authorized online casinos, online sportsbooks, and real money online poker sites.
Given the heavy lift of licensing and regulation, it took nearly two years for the first PA online poker sites to appear. Fittingly the world’s largest operator, PokerStars, christened the market in November 2019.
As the fifth-most populous in the country, the Keystone State has relatively high prospects for online poker — even higher should the Commonwealth enter into an interstate poker compact to combine player pools and share liquidity with other markets.
So far, there is just one real money poker site open for business in Pennsylvania:
Under a partnership with Mount Airy, The Stars Group became the first real-money online poker operator in the state in November 2019.
The debut of PokerStars PA as a state-regulated site represents the return of the familiar red spade to Pennsylvania more than eight and a half years after disappearing from the US entirely under the Black Friday indictments of April 2011. It also came four and a half years after its launch in neighboring New Jersey in 2016.
PokerStars is the biggest poker operator in international markets. The only factors that have held it back in the US are that its competitors in New Jersey had a two-year head start, and that its US operations prior to 2006 have made it ineligible to be licensed in Nevada.
In Pennsylvania, however, it will likely remain the number one site even after competition arrives. Though professional players sometimes complain about its rake and ungenerous promotions, the general consensus is that it has the best online poker software in the business. For many players, that’s all that matters.
Online poker rooms differ fundamentally from online casinos in that virtually all of them require a downloaded client. While most online casinos can be played in your browser, this is rarely the case for poker.
All the major US online poker operators have developed both a mobile app and a downloadable client for PC and Mac desktop computers. You can play on whatever device you want with a single account. You can even log out of one device between hands and jump back into the game on another, though you can’t be logged in on two devices at once.
Mobile devices are actually the most popular way to play poker these days, at least for recreational players. However, they have some limitations.
Most significantly, mobile poker apps usually only let you have one table on screen at a time. You can play more than one, but won’t be able to see what’s going on at tables other than the active one. Some sites, like Partypoker, are working on addressing this issue, but screen size will always remain a problem.
You’ll also be more reliant on the bet slider or hotkeys for deciding how much to bet, as typing bets in manually can be a chore without a keyboard. Finally, mobile apps don’t always allow access to the full range of games that you’ll find in a desktop client.
The PokerStars mobile app is among the best in the business. It’s built from scratch, not merely the desktop client adapted for a smaller screen. That makes it very slick and efficient, yet also unfamiliar at first if you’ve been playing on desktop previously.
There are three tabs at the top of the main lobby for Cash Games, Sit & Go Tournaments and Scheduled Tournaments. Within each, you can scroll vertically through a list of game types, and then swipe left or right to see the available tables within each type. You can also tap “More” to get a screen with various filters and stakes sliders to narrow the selection down further.
Once you’re seated at your table, playing poker will be familiar and intuitive. The visual presentation is a bit different than on desktop, but all the controls are located where you expect them to be and work in an intuitive manner. If you play more than one table at once, the controls to navigate between tables are at the top of your screen.
The PokerStars mobile app works in portrait mode only.
For the most part, downloading legal real money poker apps is the same as any other mobile app.
If you’re using an Apple device, clicking a “Play Now” link on our site or visiting the operator’s download page should take you to the App Store, where it’s as simple as tapping “Get” and confirming with your password or Touch ID.
If you’re using Android, however, there is one extra step. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t allow any gambling apps in its Play Store, even legal ones.
To download an Android poker app, you’ll first have to go into your phone’s Settings, navigate to the Security tab, and tick the box to allow app downloads from “Unknown Sources.” You can then hit one of our Play Now links and download the app file manually. Once it downloads, you’ll be prompted again to confirm installation.
Once the app is on your phone or tablet, then you just need to log into your account, or create one if you don’t have one already.
Seven of the land-based Pennsylvania casinos have permits to offer online poker in the state.
Of these, only Mount Airy has so far launched an online poker site under its license.
Although PokerStars PA has enjoyed several months as the only real money online poker site in Pennsylvania, players in the state may well have more options soon.
Harrah’s is part of Caesars Entertainment, which also owns the World Series of Poker. That means when it does roll out online poker, it will be a WSOP site similar to those already up and running in New Jersey and Nevada (and Delaware, using the 888 Poker platform). The existing interstate poker compact allows WSOP to combine the player pools in those three states, and it could in the future do something similar with a local site in PA.
Valley Forge is similarly racing toward PA online poker under a partnership with Roar Digital. The property’s license will provide the path to market for the partypoker brand, which is likewise operational in NJ and the rest of the world.
PokerStars hit the ground running in Pennsylvania, offering several online tournament series during its first few months of operation. Most mirror the major recurring festivals found on the operator’s global dot-com site, including:
Nearly all online poker tournaments on PokerStars PA are no-limit hold’em events of varying types, with occasional pot-limit Omaha and pot-limit Omaha hi-lo tournaments popping up on the schedule as well.
With a player pool relatively small compared to international sites, expect almost all PA online poker tournaments to be NLH.
While PokerStars PA is currently the only online poker room operating in the state, the banking options it offers aren’t terribly different from what you’ll find for most online gambling sites in other states.
There are a variety of ways to deposit funds, including:
Withdrawal methods aren’t quite as plentiful, although there are multiple options for players.
When depositing or withdrawing from online poker sites in Pennsylvania, be sure to make note of minimums or maximums, expected wait times for withdrawals, and any other policies.
Sites also allow players to set deposit limits for themselves if desired.
Whatever state you’re playing in, most and probably all the operators will have some selection of bonuses and promotions on offer. These will provide you with a little extra money and, in some cases, some added fun while you’re at it.
Online poker bonuses come in several different forms. Some are automatic, while others require you to opt in through the client. Those you receive for signing up or depositing may need you to enter an appropriate bonus code.
Here are the basic categories of poker bonus:
Many sites offer you a small, strings free bonus just to get you in the door. These may or may not require a special promo code. Some may even be exclusive to our readers, so make sure to sign up using our links.
A typical no deposit signup bonus could work out anywhere between $10 and $50, though rarely more than that. Some sites may give you cash, possibly with a play through requirement. Others may give you some mixture of cash game credit and tournament tickets.
First deposit bonuses are similar to no deposit signup bonuses, except that they take effect when you fund your account rather than when you register. Some sites offer one of each, often called a welcome package.
First deposit bonuses almost always take the form of a deposit match. This will have a percentage and a maximum. For instance, a 100% match up to $500 would mean that whatever amount you deposit, you’ll get the same amount in bonus credit, to a maximum of $500. If it was only a 50% match, you’d need to deposit $1000 to receive the same bonus.
There will almost always be a play through requirement with deposit matches. You’ll have to generate a certain amount of rake or each a certain number of loyalty points to unlock the bonus and turn it into real money that you can play with or withdraw. This usually happens in increments, for instance in $10 blocks every time you hit a milestone in your play.
Reload bonuses are another form of deposit bonus, available for subsequent deposits after the first. They usually require bonus codes and a certain minimum deposit. There may even be multiple bonus codes available at one time, forcing you to choose which one you want to deposit with (or make multiple deposits to use them all).
Reload bonuses can take the form of a deposit match, similar to first deposit bonuses. However, there are other types as well, often available only for a limited time.
For instance, when a site hosts a special tournament series, it will often have an associated reload bonus. Using a code corresponding to the series in question, the bonus you’ll receive will often take the form of tickets to smaller events in the series, or satellite entries to try to win your way into the Main Event.
Most poker rooms also have a loyalty program of some sort. Each dollar you pay in rake or in tournament entry fees will earn you points. Beyond those basic facts, such programs can vary widely from site to site.
Many loyalty programs are tiered, offering better rewards for higher volumes of play. Some award cash only, others have randomized prizes. Some instead have a store built into the app, allowing you to purchase gifts. Some loyalty programs are specific to the poker room, while other companies have a unified rewards program for poker, casino and sports betting.
Exactly how a site’s loyalty program works is one of the major differentiating factors between operators, so be sure to read up on them before making your decision.
Many poker operators run special promotions on a regular basis, some more frequently than others. These can be limited time deposit bonuses, happy hours, freerolls, challenges, mini games, or almost anything else you can imagine.
Sometimes, the poker room will bring these promotions to your attention via email or with a pop-up when you log in. Other times, they’re hidden away in a tab of the client and require you to opt in.
These days, most poker operators don’t go as wild with special promotions as they did in the years before the US crackdown on online gambling. However, what promotions they do have are often geared towards recreational players. Some can work out to be better than 100% rakeback if you’re only playing a small amount and for low stakes, so it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s available.
There are a lot of different ways to play poker, not all of which are available everywhere. The main reason for this is the available player base. The less popular a given format or game is, the less likely you’ll find it in an area with a limited player pool.
This is will continue to be an issue for legal online poker in the US until such time as interstate poker becomes widely adopted. Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s population is sufficient that the options aren’t too limited. PokerStars tends to have more variety than its competitors, however, so what’s available now is probably not going to change as other sites launch.
Here are some of the options you’ll find in Pennsylvania:
Also known as ring games, cash games are what the average person thinks of when they hear the word “poker.” Chips in these games are equivalent to real money, and you can add more money to the table in between hands, up to a certain maximum, usually 100 times the big blind. You can also stop playing whenever you like and cash your chips out.
Ring game tables come in various sizes, from heads-up (two players) up to a maximum of nine seats at most sites.
Also known as multi-table tournaments or MTTs, scheduled tournaments run at specific times, as the name implies. Once you’ve signed up for one, you’re locked in until you run out of chips or are the last player standing, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to finish.
Some of these tournaments attract large fields, often in the hundreds of players. Typically, the top 10% to 15% of finishers receive a payout, with a large chunk of the prize pool going to the eventual winner. This makes tournaments the style of poker with the highest volatility, and even professionals can go on very long downswings. Conversely, a single win in a big enough tournament can be life changing.
Most sites have a few special series each year, in addition to their regular weekly schedules. These will feature bigger fields, more prize money, and sometimes formats that you won’t see much the rest of the year.
Traditional sit-and-go (SNG) tournaments can be either single table or multi table. In most respects, they’re identical to scheduled tournaments except for the fact that they run on demand and have a fixed number of seats. For instance, a 27-player SNG will take signups until three 9-handed tables are filled, then start immediately with no further entries allowed.
SNGs are a good option if you like the tournament experience but not the time commitment. Single-table SNGs typically take under an hour to complete, and ones with Turbo or Hyper-Turbo structures are faster still.
Lottery sit-and-goes (LSNG) are often known by trademarked names specific to each site. For instance, PokerStars calls them Spin & Go, and Partypoker just Spins. Players call them by these names more often than the generic term. The concept was originally pioneered by the French site Winamax in 2013, but has been adopted almost industry-wide since then.
LSNGs are very high-speed, very short-handed SNGs. Three players and three-minute blind levels are pretty typical. They are usually winner-take-all.
The “lottery” aspect is what distinguishes them from conventional SNGs, and refers to their variable prize pools. Once all players are seated, the spin of a wheel or slot machine reel will determine the prize pool they’ll play for.
The minimum payout is usually the most common, and often amounts to 2 times the buy-in. The size and odds for higher payouts varies from site to site. PokerStars offers a 1 in 1,000,000 shot at a jackpot paying 10,000 times the buy-in to the winner and 1000 times to each runner up as a consolation.
Since the poker boom of the early 2000s, No-Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) has become virtually synonymous with “poker” in the public’s imagination. However, there are plenty of other poker variants.
For starters, you’ll see Limit and Pot Limit betting structures. Limit games have a fixed bet size, which increases only once per hand, usually on the third betting round. Pot-Limit games work similarly to No-Limit, but there’s a maximum bet or raise, determined by the number of chips already in the pot.
Aside from NLHE, the most popular poker game these days is Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO). Omaha gives players four cards each instead of two, and features the rule that a player’s hand must be formed using exactly two hole cards and three community cards.
Any reasonably populated poker site should have ample NLHE and PLO tables available. Other formats exist too, but you may have a harder time finding opponents.
Stud variants are a less common option these days, though they were the most popular game type prior to the 1990s. These games have no community cards, but players’ personal cards arrive one at a time, some face up and others face down.
Draw variants have neither community cards nor face-up personal cards, but allow players to discard cards and draw new ones one or more times during the hand.
Lowball games reverse the order of hand values, tasking players with making a hand of low-valued unpaired cards. Lowball draw games are the most common. There are also Hi/Lo variants, including of Omaha and Stud, where players seek to form both the highest and lowest hand, often resulting in a split pot.
Online poker isn’t available legally in most of the US, and Pennsylvania players are very fortunate that it is in their state. Given that you have the opportunity to play on a legal real money poker site, you should take it!
Here are some of the advantages to playing legally:
How do you know whether a given site is legal or not? It’s usually pretty simple:
Besides real money poker sites like PokerStars PA, players in the state can also play on Global Poker — a sweepstakes site available in 49 states.
Sweepstakes online poker does have some advantages for Pennsylvanians, including access to a multi-state player pool. Some players will, however, always prefer the traditional model of real money online poker.
Below are some common questions and answers related to online poker in Pennsylvania.
Yes. Real money online poker in the state is legal, as long as you are playing on a regulated PA online poker site. Sweepstakes online poker is legal as well.
Just like in the brick-and-mortar poker rooms in the state’s casinos, players must be at least 21 years of age to play poker online in Pennsylvania.
Players need not be PA residents to play online poker, but they do need to be physically located within the state in order to play. Sites use geo-location software to determine players are indeed within state lines when trying to play online poker in the state.
Yes. PokerStars returned to Pennsylvania in November 2019, opening the state’s first fully legal and regulated online poker site.
When it comes to regulated, real-money online poker sites, the answer is not yet.
Pennsylvania sites are “ring-fenced,” meaning players can only play against other players in the state. The law does permit the creation of compacts with other states with legal online poker, however, so PA interstate poker could happen at a later date.
Meanwhile, sweepstakes poker sites like Global Poker do allow players from different states to play against each other.
The first online poker room to open in the state, PokerStars PA, generated an average of more than $2 million gross revenue per month and an average of around $365,000 in taxes per month during its first four months in operation.
Online poker sites in PA must pay the state 16% tax the total win. That’s considerably less than the tax rates faced by online casinos where the tax rate is 34% for table games and 54% for slots.
Click here for monthly updates on revenue and tax totals for Pennsylvania online poker rooms.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) licenses and regulates most forms of gambling in the state, including online poker.
PO Box 69060
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9060
Email: [email protected]