After a long wait, Pennsylvania’s gamblers finally know when online gambling in the state will be arriving: July 15, 2019!
The news came recently from Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) Executive Director Kevin O’Toole. During a PGCB meeting on April 15, O’Toole announced that they needed 90 days to finally get their regulatory ducks in a row and allow PA casino operators to launch online gambling operations.
Assuming no hiccups, in a couple weeks, PA will be the fourth US state with mobile sports betting. Similarly, in three months, Pennsylvania will be the fourth US state with legal online poker.
Hurry up and wait
Eighteen months ago, legislation enabling a massive expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania was signed by Governor Wolf. State legislators guessed (correctly) that the US Supreme Court would strike down a law that had made sports betting illegal throughout most of the country. In addition, recent DOJ opinions regarding the scope of the Wire Act made legal room for states to license and regulate gambling locally without federal prohibitions.
In May of last year, the US Supreme Court followed through as predicted and Pennsylvania was all set to roll out several new expansions of gambling activity in the state. The new additions included a new online lottery, satellite casino expansions, sports betting (including mobile betting), and online casino gaming.
Several PA casinos have jumped on these new opportunities, expanding to satellite locations, adding sportsbooks, and applying for online gaming licenses. Despite many having been approved for these licenses, until now nobody has had any idea when online gaming could actually begin. Now we know: July 15 of this year.
What will the PA online gambling landscape look like?
Pennsylvania has thirteen land-based casinos eligible to apply for online gaming licenses in the state.
Ten of these have applied for and received licenses to offer online table games and online slots. Seven of these are also licensed to offer online peer-to-peer gaming (most notably: online poker). Sports betting is covered by a completely different license. More on the PA sports betting picture here.
Only three PA casinos declined to enter the online gaming space: Lady Luck Nemacolin, Meadows, and Rivers Casino. River’s reluctance to participate is easy to explain. They can simply use the license of their sister casino SugarHouse to operate state-wide. The other two simply must have thought the license fees and state taxes were too onerous a burden.
Since licenses were “created” for all thirteen PA casinos, when some were left on the shelf the PGCB opened the door for outside Qualified Gaming Entities (QGEs) to grab them. Two did. Golden Nugget and MGM will be operating online gaming in Pennsylvania under this special QGE status.
An explosion of online poker
Since the US Government effectively destroyed US online poker in 2011, legal options for US players have been meager. Nevada and New Jersey have intra-state sites and states are beginning to allow the merging of player pools, but still the online poker landscape is a desert compared to the lush landscape that existed prior to “Black Friday”.
Accordingly, the opening of the PA online poker market will be a big deal. Here’s a few of the major landmarks of the coming PA online poker market:
- PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker brand, will operate under its partnership with Mount Airy Casino.
- Harrah’s Philadelphia will probably operate two platforms, WSOP and 888 Poker.
- PartyPoker will operate under its partnership with Valley Forge Casino
- SugarHouse, Sands, Hollywood, and Parx Casinos also hold online poker licenses, but how they plan to operate is unknown.
What about the Wire Act?
Gambling, both traditional and online, is poised to sweep across many states in the US. There are some worries that the DOJ under Trump might try to reverse this trend, or at least the online portions of it, but so far states are proceeding with their plans to expand gambling across the country.
The PGCB is clearly intending to move forward despite the DOJ’s new hostile posture. Pennsylvania is involved with a federal court proceeding in New Hampshire that is challenging the new DOJ “interpretation” of the Wire Act. A lot is riding on the outcome.
Even if the DOJ proves extremely hostile to online gambling, state operators may avoid legal trouble if they can successfully confine all online activities (including servers and payment processing) within the borders of their respective states (and of course obeying the laws of their own state).
Most at risk from the DOJ’s new hostile reading of the Wire Act is the prospect of merging player pools in online poker. It really restricts the number and variety of games available to players if they can only play against people residing in the same state.