News

PA Online Poker May Not Create A Boom, But It Could Be A Tipping Point


The debate over what started poker’s boom in popularity in the early 2000s rages on more than a decade and a half later.

Was it the dramatic storytelling in ESPN’s coverage of Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 World Series of Poker win? It proved an amateur can take on the pros and win, attracting countless new players.

Was it the explosion of online poker? It gave people the idea anyone could follow Moneymaker’s path to millions playing online satellites from the privacy of their own home.

Perhaps it was the advent of hole card cameras changing poker on TV. After all, networks and cable sports channels found the game’s affordable production costs an efficient way to fill air time. So much so it made them all complicit in planting the seed of the poker dream in the minds of millions of American viewers.

Most can generally agree it was likely a combination of all of the above.

Pennsylvania: Poker’s next frontier

From its peak in 2006, the popularity of the game has certainly waned, but poker is still here. These days, it’s an established industry that has sustained itself through the good times and various government attack-related bad times.

There’s legal online poker in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. It’s even growing ever so slightly, with the WSOP.com, 888 Poker, and Delaware racetrack sites now sharing player pools.

The next frontier for the online game is most definitely Pennsylvania. Regulators have already approved the first group of PA online poker license applications. The launch of the first legal and regulated PA online poker sites will happen sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018 or early 2019.

Pennsylvania’s population of 13 million is the same as New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware combined. This suggests the number of people playing online poker in the US could double when PA online poker finally launches.

A second coming of the poker boom?

Does that mean PA is poised to spark a new poker boom? Probably not, but it’s certainly the start of something.

The PA online poker market will begin with a fence around it. That means PA players will be pitted against each other only. Players don’t have to be residents, but they do have to be situated inside PA to play.

It appears lawmakers and regulators want to see what they’ve got, before signing the interstate compact known as the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association and agreeing to share it with New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.

Once PA comes on board, tournament prize pools and cash game offerings will most definitely reach new heights. That, in turn, could attract even more players to the game.

A four-state market will grow legal US online poker exponentially. But even if PA adds 13 million more players to the pool, it isn’t likely to create anything near the size of poker’s initial boom. Something more needs to happen.

Creating another boom

PA’s fenced-in online poker market will launch with sites operating under licenses granted to PA casinos as well as approved outside gaming entities. This could potentially put two of the conditions that created the original poker boom in place once again.

Online poker will be there. Plus, as long as PA poker rooms use online poker sites to help market the live game, the online satellites that helped give rise to a new American poker dream will be there as well.

That leaves poker on TV as the missing link, but perhaps it’s not missing at all.

These days, there isn’t anywhere near the number of poker programs on TV as there was at the height of poker’s popularity. The federal government forced the biggest online poker operators out of the country. Ultimately, they took the advertising dollars that largely supported poker on TV out with them.

However, poker programming has migrated online, where both traditional and next-generation live streaming has found new life and a growing audience.

Perhaps poker programming online can replace TV in what would be a second-coming of the poker boom. Or, maybe, if the market keeps growing, old and new operators will bring the advertising dollars back.

Unlocking online poker across the country

The truth is, if a second-coming of the boom is to happen, Pennsylvania launching legal online poker must represent more than just adding another potential 13 million more players to the existing interstate pool. PA must be the catalyst to unlocking online poker across the country.

Seeing a robust PA online poker market creating significant tax revenue could give New York the impetus it needs to finally pass its own online poker legislation. It could also gives states like Illinois, Michigan, and California the push these states require to get in the gold rush. A real second-coming of the boom could be in the offing if that happens.

Pennsylvania probably can’t create a poker boom on its own. However, PA has the ability to start one, and perhaps, just by legalizing and regulating it, it already has.


Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.