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Who Is Likely To Lead The Legal PA Online Poker Market?


Pennsylvania legalized online poker as a part of a comprehensive gambling expansion in the state in October 2017.

Pennsylvania will open up the online poker market with local sites only welcoming players currently inside state lines – just like Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey did before it. Those states have since signed an agreement to share player pools. Plus, Pennsylvania has shown an interest in joining them down the road.

The laws allow for the 12 PA land-based casinos to apply for one of 36 available licenses. There are separate licenses for online table games, online slots, and online poker.

It will clearly be months before any online poker sites are up and running in Pennsylvania. However, the writing is on the wall as to who wants into this new online poker market. Here’s our best guess as to who will lead the PA online poker market right out of the gate:

WSOP.com

Caesars Entertainment has the Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in PA. It also owns and operates the World Series of Poker-branded online poker rooms in New Jersey and Nevada.

The Nevada site also shares player pools with 888 Poker-run online poker sites in Delaware. This is thanks to an agreement signed between the two states in 2015. New Jersey signed on to join the agreement in October. WSOP appears to be the only online poker site poised to take advantage of that immediately.

Add it all up and Harrah’s Philadelphia is the most likely PA casino to apply for an online poker license. Leveraging the WSOP’s brand recognition could help a WSOP PA site lead the online poker market from the start. Plus, once Pennsylvania makes the three-state shared player pool agreement four, WSOP should be in a position to offer the largest player pools.

That will mean more cash games and tournaments with bigger prize pools. That will inevitably give the site a huge edge in the fight for market share.

PokerStars

The world’s largest online poker site jumped into the regulated online poker market in New Jersey in the spring of 2016 and has been the market leader ever since. The software PokerStars employs is just so much better than the competition, serious players can’t help but flock to the site.

Plus, even though PokerStars has been out of most of the US market for years, its brand recognition hasn’t completely faded. The truth is there’s really no bigger name in online poker.

In this month’s third quarter earnings call, PokerStars’ parent company The Stars Group CEO Raft Ashkenazi said PokerStars aims to be among the first operators to launch in Pennsylvania when that state opens its door to online poker and casino. The only question left open is how it will get in the state.

New Jersey online gambling laws dictate operators must be associated with a land-based casino in Atlantic City. PokerStars operates under the Resorts AC online gambling license. Mohegan Sun manages Resorts and also owns the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino and racetrack in PA.

This makes Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs the most likely casino partner for PokerStars in PA, but the company could still go it alone.

There is no legal requirement for online operators to partner with a land-based casino in PA. If any of the 36 licenses on offer to PA casinos are not snatched up, outside entities will be invited to apply for them. PokerStars could very well wait for an online poker operators license to become available and jump in PA that way.

But either way, PokerStars appears poised to be among the market leaders from the outset and champing at the bit to get going.

SugarHouse

Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino and owners Rush Street Gaming launched a New Jersey online gambling site in September 2016. Considering the company’s interest in online gambling, and the fact it has the software ready to roll, SugarHouse Casino could very well be one of the first to apply for a table games and slots license in PA.

SugarHouse doesn’t run an online poker site in NJ. However, it is firmly entrenched in PA live poker culture. The poker room at SugarHouse Casino is actually run in partnership with Poker Night in America. Poker Night in America is a TV show and live stream produced by Rush Street.

Should SugarHouse jump in the online poker market right away, it could take advantage of Poker Night in America’s existing marketing machine to grab market share immediately. Running a robust online-to-live satellite program for events at the brick-and-mortar SugarHouse could also help a SugarHouse online poker site hold onto it.

Parx

Tax rates for legalized online gambling appeared to be a big concern for Parx when the law was being written. Executives with Parx also expressed a fear online gambling operations would cannibalize the brick-and-mortar casino business.

Parx is also home to the the top revenue-generating poker room in the state. Plus, it runs Pennsylvania’s largest and most successful live poker tournament series. In fact, the Parx Big Stax poker tournament series has run five times annually in February, May, August, October, and December since February 2013.

It remains unclear if Parx wants to take its poker online. What is clear is that Parx is the biggest name in live poker in the state and running a companion online poker site with satellites into live events on the property will only help it get bigger.


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.