Pennsylvania’s online poker players have reason to be optimistic these days. PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker site will soon (estimates are early 2019) be back in operation in the state (albeit in a somewhat limited capacity) and along with online poker, they are bringing online casino gaming and online sports betting with them.
Here’s a quick peek of what’s coming and when – then we can delve into some more detailed information.
|PokerStars PA in brief
|Pennsylvania Partner ||Mount Airy||Approved August 2018
|PokerStars PA Promo Code||Coming Soon||Check back here for savings when signing up & depositing
|Approved - Estimated launch early 2019||Poker Bonus (Likely): 100% up to $600
PokerStars PA Casino
|Approved - Estimated launch early 2019||PokerStars Casino Bonus (Likely): 200% up to $400
|Estimated Launch: Sometime in 2019||BetStars Bonus: $500 New Player Bonus
PokerStars was huge in the US – then they were banished.
PokerStars opened its virtual cardroom in 2001 and is currently the largest online poker site in the world, having captured around two-thirds of the total online poker market. PokerStars rode the poker “boom” of 2003 along with other industry leaders such as Full Tilt Poker, Party Poker, and Ultimate Bet Poker.
PokerStars achieved the top spot in the US in 2006 when Party Poker (the front-runner at the time) suspended US operations in response to US government actions to crack down on the legal “gray area” of online gaming. For five more years, PokerStars ran the most popular and well-loved online poker site in the US. Then, on April 15, 2011, came “Black Friday” when the US government shut it all down for good, seizing the domains of all the top online poker sites in the country.
Access to those sites became impossible for US residents. While the rest of the world continued to enjoy online poker, US citizens were shut out.
How PokerStars found its way back
Recent changes in US and PA laws have made it possible for online gaming (including poker) to make a comeback. In Pennsylvania’s case, legislators have created online poker, online table games, online slots, and sports betting (including online sports-betting) licenses. These licenses are initially available to the states thirteen pre-existing land-based casinos but will be available to Qualified Gaming Entities (QGEs) for a limited time should the local casinos turn them down.
PokerStars isn’t on the list of QGEs that are applying for licenses (MGM and Golden Nugget appear to be the only ones so far) but they will be entering the PA market anyway through a strategic alliance. In August 2018, Pennsylvania’s Mount Airy Resort Casino announced a partnership with The Stars Group (parent company of PokerStars) to handle their online gaming operations.
Mount Airy Casino has applied for (and been approved) licenses allowing them to operate online poker, online slots, and online table games. In addition, they are expected to apply for and receive one of PA’s new sports-betting licenses.
The Stars Group will be partnering with Mount Airy Casino to run all of these new ventures, using Mount Airy as a gateway to access the vast Pennsylvania gambling market. It was earlier guessed that Mohegan Sun Pocano would serve this purpose. The Stars Group already has a relationship with Mohegan Sun through their sister company Resorts Casino Hotel in New Jersey where PokerStars first established a new foothold in the US in 2016.
The Stars Group – not just poker anymore
In the intervening eleven years since PokerStars was forced out of the US market, they have been growing and diversifying in the online gaming space. PokerStars is owned by The Stars Group (formerly known as Amaya Gaming) and they have expanded their focus to encompass the entirety of the gaming market.
PokerStars: The market leader in online poker
In terms of growth, as already mentioned PokerStars is the worlds leader in online poker holding a two-thirds share of the market. They have the largest tournaments, the largest player pool, and an enormous selection of poker variants to choose from. Games include Limit and No-limit versions of Texas Hold’em, Limit and Pot-limit versions of Omaha (both high and high-low split), Stud, Stud high-low split, Razz, Five-card draw, 2-7 triple-draw, No-limit 2-7 single draw, Badugi, Courchevel, and several variations of “Mixed” games which rotate through several of these variants.
In addition, PokerStars is constantly innovating, offering their players new poker games like Split Hold’em, Power Up, and Fusion. New games don’t always stick, but PokerStars is always trying to push the envelope and keep things interesting.
While PokerStars is their most well-known brand of online poker, The Stars Group also runs the Full Tilt and, since purchasing Sky Betting & Gaming, the Sky Poker site (though they intend to merge this platform and player pool into the PokerStars framework.
BetStars: Expanding and innovating in the sports-betting market
BetStars is The Stars Group’s sports betting brand and is one of the newest of their endeavors. They got a leg-up into the space when they purchased Sky Bet as part of the Sky Betting & Gaming acquisition. Since then, BetStars has been all about innovation and player experience, focusing heavily on mobile wagering.
BetStars offers bettors a wide variety of sports games to bet on as well as a wide variety of betting lines to choose from. They offer in-game betting, early cashouts (lock in the equity of your position before the game ends!), and the innovative Odds Boost and Spin & Bet features.
The smooth layout of the app and the bevy of features, games, and lines makes it clear that BetStars is serious about offering a great experience to their sports betting players.
PokerStars Casino: Offering slots and table games online
Long ago, the PokerStars poker room had a relatively dinky “casino” attached to it in a clunky manner reminiscent of an afterthought. Those days are long gone.
The current PokerStars Casino is seamlessly integrated with the entire PokerStars suite of offerings and it is massive. They offer their own proprietary games but also offer some of the industry’s most popular offerings from online gaming companies like NetEnt, NYX Gaming, Playtech, Leander, and Microgaming.
The PokerStars Casino slot machine game catalog is enormous, offering players over 400 different titles to choose from. Their table game offerings are also extensive, offering both standard and exotic versions of Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat, Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card, Poker and many more.
In addition, PokerStars Casino also offers a decent selection of video poker games including Joker Poker, Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Double-Double Bonus Poker, among others.
In total, the betting options available from the “new and improved” PokerStars is impressive and US players who haven’t seen the brand in eleven years will be surprised and impressed by what’s available.
When will PokerStars PA go live?
Mount Airy Casino has been approved for the licenses that will allow it to provide online poker, online slots, and online table games. However, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) hasn’t yet given the final go-ahead to casinos to begin operations and unfortunately, nobody is exactly sure when that will occur.
It’s a good guess that the PGCB is waiting for all eligible PA casinos and other QGEs to apply and be approved before giving the green light to start taking bets. This would put all license-holders on the same competitive footing. Surely people who pay hefty taxes and license fees don’t want their competitors to have a head start on wooing the Pennsylvania gaming player base.
That said, most experts believe that the PGCB will give its final approval early in 2019 to launch online versions of poker, slots, and table games. Sports betting through BetStars will take a bit longer. Mount Airy hasn’t yet applied for this license though it is sure to do so and almost certain to be approved.
BetStars will most likely be taking sports bets a little later in 2019.
What will PokerStars PA be like?
It is important to remember that PokerStars PA won’t be the exact same product as the normal PokerStars.com available all around the world. On that platform, the entirety of the PokerStars player pool can all play with each other in one large virtual poker room.
Unfortunately, when online poker rooms launch in newly regulated markets they are sometimes “ring-fenced” to begin with and this will be the case in Pennsylvania. This means that initially, PokerStars PA will most likely only be allowed to let Pennsylvanians play with other people located within the state.
In the intermediate term, the “ring” will probably be relaxed to include player pools from other states. As an example, New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware currently share a multi-state liquidity agreement allowing player pools in these states to be unified. Currently, the WSOP.com online poker room is the only site able to take advantage of this arrangement but more sites (like PokerStars) should be able to do so in the near future.
As legal online poker (and gaming in general) matures in the US market, it is almost certain that the long-term equilibrium will see PokerStars PA fully integrated with the rest of the PokerStars world-wide player pool. Unfortunately, exactly how long it will take for this situation to normalize is anybody’s guess.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at what PokerStars PA will mostly likely be offering customers right out of the gate.
PokerStars PA VIP program
PokerStars uses a tier-based VIP rewards program, with the final rank culminating in the legendary Supernova status. They will probably simply use the same system for PokerStars PA.
Back in 2011, Supernova status players would have over 60% of their rake kicked back to them, making PokerStars the “place to play” for many serious poker grinders. Those days are long gone, and the current rewards program is much more modest, though recreational players will still find it attractive and competitive.
Players still earn (through their play) cash and prizes with the new StarCoin program, but the actual cash rakeback program has been scaled way back. Most high-volume players earn no more than 20% rakeback and Supernova players earn only 28% rakeback (now under the new Cumulative Monthly Rebates program)
PokerStars PA promotions and bonuses
We can’t say for sure what kinds of sign-up and deposit bonuses will be available when PokerStars PA launches, but what’s on offer next door at PokerStars NJ is a good indicator.
Right now, PokerStars NJ offers the same generous deposit bonuses that players might remember from PokerStars back in 2011. Currently players can receive a 100% bonus up to $600 on new deposits. PokerStars NJ also offers $30 in freeplay when depositing $20 or more.
There is no obvious reason bonuses would be different at PokerStars PA once the site goes live in Pennsylvania.
PokerStars PA tournaments
PokerStars.com is famous for it’s massive tournament prize pools. PokerStars PA obviously won’t be able to match these huge numbers, but if PokerStars NJ is any guide, they will be offering daily and weekly tournaments as a featured aspect of the site.
The extremely popular PokerStars Sunday Million won’t be available in PA but players will likely find fairly large Sunday tournament guarantees – perhaps up to $50,000 with weekday tournaments up to $20,000. These are available on PokerStars NJ, so are expected to also be featured on PokerStars PA.
In the early days and weeks of the PokerStars PA launch, we could see even larger guarantees as the new site looks to make a big splash in this new market. It’s also worth considering that Pennsylvania’s population is larger than that of New Jersey. After maturation of the local state market (ignoring player pool merge considerations), it figures to be larger and have larger prize pools than neighboring New Jersey.
PokerStars PA will also likely offer a localized version of its popular online tournament series’ such as the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). In New Jersey, PokerStars NJCOOP is already the premier online tournament series in the state, featuring overall guaranteed prize pools nearing $1 million.
Pennsylvania’s PokerStars players could easily see higher prize pools right out of the gate. And of course, as more states make agreements to share player pools, these numbers will grow and grow over time.
Check back here for updated information
As the launch date for PokerStars in PA comes closer, check back here at pennonlinecasinos.com for more details about PokerStars games, bonuses, the VIP program, and other details specifically applicable to Pennsylvanians.