Real-Money Online Casino Gaming Arrives In PA

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Shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, July 15, one casino made good on a promise the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made nearly three months ago.

Penn National’s Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg launched real-money online casino gaming at HollywoodCasino.com, becoming the first property in the state to offer the vertical. The slots and table games are in “soft launch” mode — meaning they’re available on a limited schedule while various security measures are tested — before Hollywood’s virtual doors swing open 24/7 later this week. And the game options, at least for now, are severely limited.

This is not the first form of legal, regulated online gambling available in Pennsylvania; sports betting began at Play SugarHouse on May 28, and two additional online sportsbooks soon followed.

Similarly, Hollywood will soon have company in the PA online casino market.

Parx Casino has a countdown clock on its website, indicating that at 2 p.m. today, it will become the second property to soft-launch. Stay tuned to Penn Bets over the next few hours for more details.

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Additional online casinos will follow in the coming days and weeks, with SugarHouse Casino reported to be third in line, entering its soft launch phase this Wednesday.

Penn National leads the way

It’s been a long wait for Pennsylvanians since online gaming was legalized in October 2017, but the PGCB has proven itself repeatedly to prefer a deliberate approach over a more aggressive rollout of new forms of gambling. For example, brick-and-mortar sports betting launched five months later in PA than in neighboring New Jersey — and when it did begin, it was Hollywood Casino that opened the first sportsbook in the state.

Penn National began hosting live horse racing way back in 1972, and in February 2008, Hollywood Casino opened with slot machine play. Table games followed in July 2010.

PN executives have had their eye on the additional revenue streams that come from online and mobile technology for quite a while, launching an online gaming division in 2015, long before legislation passed in PA. Hollywood applied in July 2018 to operate online slots, table games, and poker, received approval on October 3, and announced a partnership with IGT to operate its online casino later that same month.

Online casino would seem to present an enormous opportunity for Hollywood relative to many of its in-state competitors, since the b&m property doesn’t reach a massive population in Grantville, Pa. Millions of gamblers who would never think of making the drive to the land-based casino now have access to its games.

Unfortunately, the same situation limiting the reach of digital sportsbooks from a mobile phone perspective temporarily hampers Hollywood Casino and the other online venues soon to launch. The gaming is available on laptop and desktop computers and on Android phones and tablets, but due to new iOS rules issued in early June, the real-money gaming apps have to be revamped to comply, and the timetable is hazy.

So for now, Hollywood Casino is available via Web browser and on Android devices only.

The timetable for Hollywood and others to launch online poker is also uncertain, though it is generally expected that those virtual cards will be shuffled up and dealt before the end of the summer.

Free bankroll builder

Most online gaming sites offer a “welcome bonus” to attract new customers. Hollywood’s is fairly modest, but also requires no deposit — it’s all reward, no risk. All new registrants get $25 to gamble with, on the house.

You can’t just cash it right out, of course. But you only have to play through the $25 once, and any winnings become part of your bankroll, for you to either cash out or keep on the site.

The game selection, unfortunately, is very limited. There’s no blackjack or roulette. When you click on “Table Games,” only two options pop up: video poker and baccarat.

As for online slots, there are 44 games available as of launch, including:

  • Asgardian Stones
  • Blood Suckers
  • DaVinci Diamonds
  • Wheel of Fortune Hawaiian Getaway
  • Cleopatra

Before online gaming’s launch in the state, Penn National was very vocal in opposition to the 54% tax rate on slots and video poker. But that hasn’t prevented the company from going heavy on those options at launch.

As for deposit methods, Hollywood Casino offers three options for now:

  • Bank transfer/ACH
  • Play+
  • PayNearMe

There isn’t even a “cash at the cage” in-person deposit option yet.

We expect that more ways to deposit — as well as more online casino games — will become available to Hollywood players in the days and weeks ahead.

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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