It took 736 days from when Governer Tom Wolf signed a massive gaming expansion package way back in October 2017 for virtual cards to be in the air, but with the launch of PokerStars PA, Pennsylvanians patience has finally paid off. After many delays, it was assumed that at least one online poker site would launch on the targeted date of July 15, 2019, but as that date came and went, PA poker players were left wondering when and who would be the first.
PokerStars PA launched on November 4, 2019 at 2pm, and within minutes had hundreds of players sitting down at the virtual felt. By the end of the day, there were over 1100 people playing online for real money at PokerStars PA.
In this article, we give you a comprehensive breakdown of the legal PA online poker industry, detail which operators have launched, who is approved to launch and who their software partners are, while highlighting welcome bonus opportunities that new players can take advantage of.
PA Online Poker Sites
For now, PokerStars sits alone as the only live online poker room, but will hopefully not be alone for long. PartyPoker, betMGM and WSOP.com are all live in New Jersey and will be joining PokerStars in PA soon, but no launch dates are available yet. Newcomers to the online poker realm such as Parx and SugarHouse may take a while longer to go live as they are building their sites from scratch. Stay tuned to PennBets for all your Pennsylvania online poker news and launch dates.
Here are the sites currently slated to offer online poker in PA:
|Online Poker Site||Casino Partner||Software Provider||Status||Launch Date|
|PokerStars||Mount Airy Casino Resort||PokerStars||LIVE||Nov. 4, 2019|
|PartyPoker PA||Valley Forge Casino||PartyPoker||Approved||TBD|
|SugarHouse||Rivers Philadelphia||Rush Street||Approved||TBD|
|Penn National||Hollywood Casino||IGT||Approved||TBD|
|Parx Casino||Parx Casino||GAN/Kambi||Approved||TBD|
|Wind Creek Casino||Wind Creek Casino||TBD||Approved||TBD|
While eight casino licensees have paid for permits to offer online poker in the Keystone State, the number of potential brands which can enter the market is technically uncapped. That number likely won’t rise much further, however, as the ring fenced nature of US online poker severely limits the market potential.
PA poker sites will have an extremely positive impact on the industry and boost player pools as a whole. With over 12.8 million residents, Pennsylvania would essentially double the player pool if officials can successfully join the already established interstate compact with legal sites in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.
PA poker sites that will have the ability to share liquidity with counterparts in other states (e.g. Harrah’s and PokerStars) will have a decided advantage. As a result, there is a good chance that some of the smaller sites will attempt to merge into existing networks in order to stay competitive.
PA online poker deposit bonuses
Online poker is known to offer significantly better perks than the paltry benefits handed out by brick-and-mortar poker rooms. Since a player can instantly just close a window and switch to another easily accessible website, online operators need to offer players real value to broaden the appeal of the brand.
This usually takes the form of a welcome package for new users, as well as occasional temporary promotions to reinvigorate the interest of casual players.
No deposit bonuses
Several PA sites will likely offer a free gift simply for signing up, even before you have put any of your own money into the account. Usually, this is either a small cash reward or a number of free entry tickets to multi-table tournaments and/or SNG events.
While the free cash bonuses are awarded without a deposit requirement, players will still have to play a certain amount of action before their money can be cashed out.
The more prevalent bonus offer featured on internet poker rooms is the deposit match. With this promotion, the site will credit players with a 100% match of whatever their first deposit is, up to a clearly specified maximum. For example, PokerStars is currently offering a 100% deposit match up to $600.
Using the PokerStars deposit match as an example, there are some wagering requirements to unlock the bonus. PokerStars will release the bonus in $10 slabs for every 140 redemption points you receive. You get 5 redemption points for every $1 in rake or tournaments fees you pay.
Some sites will apply the offer automatically, while others will require the input of a particular promo code during either signup or upon first deposit to be eligible. Please check our individual site reviews for details on the specific welcome offer for PA poker sites. In many cases we can offer an exclusive promo code which is more lucrative than the general public version.
While welcome packages are only available at the initial sign-up, every so often, operators will offer an extra bonus as a reward for frequent players, or to entice inactive players to return to the site.
Most often these bonuses take the form of a deposit match, albeit usually with a lower maximum amount or a decreased match percentage (e.g. “50% up to $100 if you come back this weekend!”).
Other temporary offers
Larger sites will occasionally offer additional, but smaller promotions to spark interest. These could be meta-games that are played on top of your poker action — for instance, missions to win a certain number of hands with a specified combinations or cards, or a bad-beat reward to offset losing a great hand to one facing long odds.
Daily gifts and advent calendars are also typical at certain times of the year, and often serve as a way to encourage cross-play between the poker room and the affiliated casino.
Online poker loyalty programs
Without question, PA online poker sites will offer loyalty schemes to reward frequent play. Generally, these will involve earning points based on the amount of rake or tournament entry fees generated by players.
Often, the benefits of climbing the loyalty latter include an improvement in the amount of rakeback a player receives, or free tickets to enter tournaments with ever increasing entry fees.
In some cases, these points can be cashed in for bonus money, or money free from any play through requirements whatsoever. Other programs may offer other perks, like gifts from a rewards store or benefits at the poker site’s physical casino partner.
Benefits of playing at a legal PA online poker site
While offshore poker sites are still alive and kicking in the U.S., you would be seriously jeopardizing your security and safety by playing at any one of them. Lacking regulation and oversight, your play at black-market sites can be compromised in a number of ways.
Legal PA operators, on the other hand, are highly regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), meaning that the games are always fair and your money always secure. Here are some of the perks of playing legal:
Banking safety and ease
Legal poker sites are required to meet a number of basic standards as to how your money is handled. Only approved methods can be used to get funds into your account, and those funds must then be held separately from operating accounts, meaning that even during a “run on the bank” your money will always be available.
Withdrawals must be processed as quickly and conveniently as circumstances allow. In contrast, players on disreputable offshore sites have frequently found themselves unable to collect their winnings for extended periods of time, or in some cases at all.
Depositing and withdrawing on regulated sites is a breeze, especially using methods like ACH and PayPal, which can be virtually instant.
Game fairness and integrity
Licensed poker rooms need to protect the stability and reputation of their games, and are required by law to employ a team of security professionals that monitor play to ensure there no unscrupulous activity takes place that could endanger the site or its players.
This means that, in the rare case when a player attempts to conspire to create an unfair advantage, they will be flagged and investigated. Offshore sites are not required to monitor their games at all, a practice that has given rise to horror stories in the past.
Any operator that does not follow the letter of the law would be endangering its license and face not only fines but a major loss of revenue. Attempting to get a comparable response from an unregulated site will often get you nowhere, and is akin to someone calling the police because a drug dealer didn’t give them the drugs they paid for.
Personal problem gambling protection
While it may seem like a non-issue to some, online poker does pose a risk to certain compulsive gamblers who struggle with addiction.
Regulated sites are required to make information about this problem available to players, and must give gamblers the option to limit their playing time, losses and max deposits over a certain timeframe. Players also have the option of excluding themselves from gambling altogether by filling out a form available on the poker site.
Any poker sites which continue to market to persons on the self-exclusion list will face serious fines.
Free market competition
While most of the benefits of regulated sites compared to offshore sites revolve around the lack of the disadvantages of the latter, there are also a few perks to the competitive nature of the legal market.
As it is difficult and costly to become a qualified operator, those that do must make a concerted effort to keep their customers happy. This means offering appealing promotions and bonuses, and sometimes organizing live events like tournament series.
Also, since the sites are connected to successful land-based casinos, there will likely be access to an existing real-world loyalty program with overlapping awards.
It goes without saying that all online poker rooms will offer regular cash game tables, as well as a packed schedule of multi-table tournaments and sit & go options. Most serious sites will also have their own version of the popular lottery-style SNG games or a fast-fold cash game option (although the latter may not be sustainable if traffic is poor).
In addition, there are usually a wide variety of game formats on offer, but most of the time, games will be limited to No-Limit Hold‘em (usually at the $1/$2 blind level and below) and perhaps a few Pot Limit Omaha options. Occasionally you will see a table come together for Stud games or other less popular formats, but this doesn’t happen on the regular.
The best way to predict what PA tournament game numbers will look like is to take a look at the neighboring New Jersey market.
In the Garden State, daily and weekly tournies are offered, with the highest guarantees reaching the thousands of dollars during the week, and low-to-mid tens of thousands on the weekends. Usually the largest events of the week are reserved for Sundays.
NJ sites have also taken to running major seasonal tournament series, with total guarantees reaching upwards of $1-$2 million. These often culminate in a main event with a prize pool of up to $200,000.
These types of series are becoming even more prevalent, although the largest main events have begun to shrink, with main event guarantees trending closer to the $100-150k mark. This is offset by the fact that WSOP – the only site that so far can take advantage of the three state liquidity share – has celebrated its player pooling by offering eye-catching guarantees and even chances to win WSOP bracelets via online events.
U.S. online poker sites typically rake 3-5% of the pot, with a max determined by a combination of the table stakes and the number of players dealt into the hand.
Typical loyalty programs will return a small amount of rakeback to the player, in the range of 0-9% at the lowest tiers, and up to 30-35% for extremely active players.
Rake on tournament entry fees usually varies from 5-25% of the buy-in.
Poker site traffic potential
For an estimate of Pennsylvania player pools, we can again look to New Jersey, while adjusting for the larger population of PA. We think that a single strong network on its own could expect to see a seven day average of about 100 real money players. This of course, assumes the market is not initially flooded with too many competing networks, stretching the player base thin.
If interstate liquidity is worked out quickly with other U.S. states, we might see a sustained average of something like 600 players across all markets at current projections.
Online poker banking methods
Those of you that remember playing on offshore poker sites in the Wild West days of the industry might also remember just how hard it was to both deposit and take money off the sites. Often, shady credit card processors working for operators would lie to banks, telling them that customers were simply buying shoes, golf balls or what have you, when they were really processing poker payments.
Fortunately, with regulated online gambling, this practice is no longer necessary, and deposits and withdrawals can be made quickly and safely.
Already in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen online casino and sportsbook operators offer the following deposit methods, which will also be made available for online poker players:
- Credit and Debit cards
- Play+ Prepaid Cards
- Online banking
- Cash at the casino cage
- Cash at 7-Eleven, CVS or Family Dollar
- Wire transfer
- ACH (e-check)
- Paper checks
Withdrawal methods are usually a little more limited, but can include:
- Paper check
- Cash at the cage
- Play+ card
Frequently asked questions
Thanks to a gambling expansion package passed in 2017, online poker is now legal in the state. Technically no site has permission to begin full operation yet, as this will need a final sign-off from the PGCB. But at this time several operators have been granted licenses to at develop poker rooms and prepare them for launch.
Some illegal, offshore sites advertise poker rooms to PA residents, but these are not licensed or regulated in any way. They should be avoided at all costs.
Accessing one’s account for signup and banking purposes should be possible from anywhere, but attempting to sit at a table will require geolocation software on your computer or a mobile device to confirm your presence inside state borders.
PA would need to negotiate a deal with the other states that host online poker sites, and ensure that operators comply with technical specs adequate and equal to that of the other markets.
It is extremely likely that PA will join in the current compact with New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada as quickly as it can, in order to stock its poker sites with as many players as possible. U.S. online poker has been on the decline due to the fact that players can only legally gamble with adversaries in 3 of 50 states. Pennsylvania, with its large population, would be a boon for the industry.
The use of legal names, addresses, and other vital statistics such as your social security number are to ensure that any activity on an account is being carried out by the actual player, and not a scammer that obtained only part of your information.
In some cases, banking transactions may even require scans or pictures of physical documents to ensure that money is being transferred to or from the real you. While these examples are inconvenient and annoying in the moment, the added protection afforded by this level of caution is more than worth it in the end.
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