Pennsylvania’s online poker players’ patience was tested the past 17 months by having only one site to play legally in the state at PokerStars, but another option finally arrived Tuesday morning.
BetMGM went live at 9:45 a.m. with interlinked sites at its BetMGM PA and Borgata iCasinos, each of which have been providing slots and table games play for months in Pennsylvania. Advertised as BetMGM Poker PA and Borgata Poker PA, they are powered by the PartyPoker platform on both sites, sharing the same games and players and essentially functioning as one new poker option.
The new online poker is monitored over a two-day test period by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, but the sites are fully functioning for real-money play 24/7 as they will be when cleared for permanent play.
It opens up a new dynamic of tournaments and cash games for players who have been limited since November 2019 to the one site of PokerStars. Though those players have the good fortune of living in one of the few states with any legal online poker option, their patience was further tested when Michigan leapfrogged Pennsylvania by having multiple options available — the same ones from PokerStars and BetMGM — within two months after iGaming began in that state this year.
There have been rumors for months in Pennsylvania of both BetMGM and Caesars, with the WSOP poker platform from 888, prepping to launch as competitors to PokerStars. Tuesday was the day that finally happened, though a gaming board spokesman said there is no indication that anything is yet imminent from Caesars/888.
Here’s what shows up on new sites
The new offering at BetMGM and Borgata requires a download of new poker software before users can begin play in desktop. The BetMGM home page says software is also available as an app on iOS devices with an Android app coming soon, while the Borgata page says poker can only be played there by desktop for now.
A wide variety of stakes appear for no-limit Texas hold’em cash games, with options ranging from blinds at 1 cent/2 cents with a 60-cent minimum buy-in the lowest and blinds of $25/$50 with a $1,500 minimum buy-in the highest.
The site advertises a daily 7 p.m. hold’em tournament with $109 buy-in and a guaranteed prize pool of $10,000. There’s a 5 p.m. Sunday game with $215 buy-in and $40,000 guaranteed. On Tuesdays, there’s a Mega Tuesday Six-Max Tournament with $535 buy-in and $12,000 guaranteed in prize money.
Customers are also offered a welcome offer of a 100% deposit match up to $600, along with a $25 bonus.
PokerStars raking $2 million-plus monthly
PokerStars has enjoyed having the field to itself among poker enthusiasts to the tune of some $2 million-plus in monthly revenue earned from the rake in its tournaments and cash games. The total was $24.6 million in the most recent fiscal year. The big question now is the extent to which the new competition builds upon that base of play or cannibalizes it to reduce PokerStars’ earnings.
That site, which faces consumers side-by-side with the FOX Bet sports betting platform, saw a surge of activity a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic closed casinos and forced many people to stay at home. That included gamblers indulging in new online play to satisfy their hobby or urge. PokerStars earned a record high of $5.5 million in revenue last April, but that number diminished afterward, settling at something in most months resembling the $2.4 million reported most recently for March.
At most hours, hundreds of Pennsylvanians are on PokerStars either playing in Texas hold’em cash games at various stakes, participating in tournaments scheduled throughout the day with differing entry fees, or signing up for quicker sit-and-go tourneys that run continuously. PokerStars also runs higher-priced special events periodically, such as the current Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker, featuring 120 tournaments over 17 days that carry combined prizes totaling more than $2 million.
BetMGM can be expected to conduct its own special events with substantial prize money as a way of pursuing the more serious players.
Multi-state compact awaited, with uncertain timeline
While BetMGM’s poker launch benefits the game’s devotees in Pennsylvania, that pales compared to how much of a boost they may see from a future multi-state compact widening the number of tournaments, games, and players.
New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada already take part in such a compact to pool players and thus boost options, and laws in much larger Pennsylvania and Michigan allow those states the flexibility to join compacts. Agreements among regulators in the various states will be required before that can happen.
Pennsylvania officials have said those discussions were held up by legal uncertainties involving the federal Wire Act. While a recent federal court opinion and the change in administrations in Washington makes it more likely an expanded compact can come to fruition, there is nothing yet imminent.