Summertime. It’s the season of picnics and porch swings, sunglasses and sunscreen, beach balls and baseball. In Pennsylvania, in 2019, it’s also the season of online gambling.
Online gaming was legalized in the state back in October 2017, and as this summer approached, the theoretically offer-able finally became the practically play-able.
Sports betting began on May 28 at Play SugarHouse, two more sites followed in June, and a fourth, FanDuel Sportsbook, launched this week.
Online casino kicked off last week at Hollywood Casino and Parx Casino on the July 15 date promised three months earlier by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, with Play SugarHouse following two days later.
The rollout has been gradual. More online sportsbooks and casinos await. Mobile phone apps are becoming available in stages. Digital casino game options, extremely limited at launch, will improve.
But one form of gambling has been conspicuously absent throughout this process so far. The July 15 date came and went, and here we are on July 24, still wondering: Where is online poker?
From boom to blah
Poker is, in many ways, the O.G. of online gambling in America, even though it was not regulated in this country during the “poker boom” era of the early 2000s. From 2003-2006, the online poker player pool was doubling in size every year.
But in New Jersey in the state-by-state regulation era, online poker numbers have been stagnant, and just a tiny fraction of what they were the previous decade. June 2019 online poker revenue in the state was $1.77 mm. Online casino revenue for the same month was $38.1 mm, while online sports betting produced $4.1 mm.
With these numbers in mind, it’s not surprising that other verticals have been given priority in Pennsylvania over poker.
It’s coming, though. The question is when. And there are no clear answers.
“At this juncture,” PGCB Communications Director Doug Harbach told Penn Bets this week, “all I can tell you is that online poker will be available when one of the operators which plans to offer it is ready to do so.”
Harbach further noted that seven land-based casinos currently plan to offer poker, and he shared the list:
- Parx Casino
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
Penn Bets reached out to several of those properties or their online partners for additional details, and a couple of them responded, but information was sparse.
Mount Airy is partnered with PokerStars, still the biggest name in online poker and a strong candidate to command attention in the PA market. A spokesperson for PokerStars’ parent company The Stars Group told us, “We’re working with our partners and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to finalize our plans for launch and will be in touch with more details when they’re available.”
A representative of Harrah’s said something similar, issuing essentially a no-comment because “we are still working out the details with our partners.”
The fact that various partners are advancing toward launch confirms that online poker is in the works at these sites. But that’s about all that can really be gleaned from these statements.
We further inquired with the PGCB as to whether shared interstate player pools, between Pennsylvania and any of the other active online poker states (Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware), will be part of the landscape in the near future.
“At this juncture, I am unaware of any compacts that are in the works that include Pennsylvania,” Harbach said.
So then, when?
There’s no question of “if,” but the question of “when” is basically a guessing game at this point.
With the Gaming Control Board and many of the operators seemingly focused on online casino and sports betting at the moment, and with nobody willing to even hint at a time frame, all logic suggests we aren’t just a week or two away from online poker in Pennsylvania.
The month of August would seem to be a possibility, but bear in mind that there’s no time-sensitive target date when it comes to poker. With sports betting, it’s important for as many sites as possible to be operational before football season kicks off. With poker, is there any substantial difference between an August, September, or October start date?
And if anything, August and early September might be busy times for the PGCB getting more mobile sportsbooks moving.
So we’ll throw an educated guess out there: Monday, Sept. 16 seems a reasonable estimate for when online poker will begin in PA.
Are you going over or under?
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