When Pennsylvania lawmakers voted to legalize online gambling last fall, they included the option for the state’s land-based casinos to partner with third-party iGaming software providers for help in building and operating their own branded gambling sites.
This allows PA brick-and-mortar casinos, many of which don’t have much experience in the online realm, to launch full-featured gaming sites quickly and efficiently, leveraging tried-and-tested software created by established and reputable companies.
Some of the state’s casinos got ahead of the game, striking partnerships with software makers years ago, even before online gambling legislation was passed. Several of these relationships have been confirmed publicly, while other properties are keeping mum about their plans.
In July 2018, it was announced that nearly all of the state’s casinos had applied for licenses to offer slots, table games and online poker at a cost of $10 million each. Sports betting license applications followed in subsequent months. To date, only a few eligible casinos have opted out of online opportunities.
While we know which casinos have applied, it’s still not clear in some cases which software suppliers will partner with each of those venues. That said, here’s what we do know and what we can deduce about the future of iGaming alliances in the Keystone State.
Quick look at PA iGaming Partnerships
|Harrah’s Philadelphia||SG Digital (Probable)||Yes (WSOP.com)||Approved||Retail|
|Mohegan Sun Pocono||Unibet||No||Approved||Pending approval|
|Mount Airy||888/PokerStars||Yes (PokerStars)||Approved||Pending approval|
|SugarHouse Casino||Rush Street Interactive||Yes||Approved||Retail|
|Rivers Casino||Opted out||Opted out||Opted out||Retail|
|The Meadows||Opted out||Opted out||Opted out||-|
|Presque Isle Downs||BetAmerica/SBTech||No||Approved||Approved|
|Lady Luck Nemacolin||Opted out||Opted out||Opted out||-|
|Valley Forge||IGT||Yes (IGT)||Approved||Retail|
|Live! Hotel & Casino||TBD||No||Approved||-|
|Golden Nugget||NYX (Probable)||No||Pending||-|
|MGM||GVC (Probable)||Yes (Likely GVC)||Pending||-|
Harrah’s Philadelphia is owned by Chester Downs & Marina, a subsidiary of casino behemoth Caesars Entertainment Corp.
In New Jersey and Nevada, multiple Caesars properties are already partnered with 888, which provides online casino games, as well as peer-to-peer online poker at WSOP.com. 888 also has branded sites of its own, including its own virtual card room.
888’s software platform, at least on the casino side, has been lackluster and somewhat disappointing in the US. Although the company has recently implemented improvements, 888-powered casinos in NJ (888 and Harrah’s) offer far fewer games than their competitors.
Launching with a substandard product in PA could be fatal due to the crushing tax rates and fees levied by the state. That leads us to believe that Harrah’s PA might opt to partner with a more formidable provider like SG Digital (formerly NYX Gaming and SG Interactive), at least for its online casino op. The company’s OGS platform already powers Caesars’ gaming site in NJ, along with Golden Nugget Casino, one of the state’s top earning operators.
As far as online poker, Harrah’s has confirmed that it will launch a WSOP.com-branded poker site. WSOP/888 is experiencing a resurgence in New Jersey due a compact to share player pools with Nevada and Delaware which went live earlier this year. If PA opts to join in, Harrah’s could be a major player in online poker.
Harrah’s has also dipped its toe into sports betting waters in PA, with the help of the Scientific Games at its brick-and-mortar sportsbook. SG may also help build a Caesars or Harrah’s branded online sports app, unless they decide to offer their license to DraftKings.
Mohegan Sun Pocono
The Mohegan Sun Pocono was purchased by the Mohegan Indian tribe in 2005, and was the first slots casino to operate in the state.
In New Jersey, Mohegan Sun runs its own online casino through a partnership with Resorts, a property it also manages. Also partnered with Resorts in NJ is online poker giant PokerStars and DraftKings Sportsbook.
It was thought that PokerStars might potentially team up with Mohegan Sun in the Keystone State due to its connection with Resorts, but the online poker giant later announced an alliance with Mount Airy. Mohegan Sun later rescinded its online poker license altogether.
SG Digital powers Mohegan Sun Casino in NJ, but the property has partnered with international iGaming provider Unibet to power both its online casino and sportsbook offerings in Pennsylvania.
Mount Airy Casino Resort
Located in Mount Pocono, Mount Airy Casino Resort boasts 70 table games and over 1,800 slots. In 2015, 888 announced that it would provide the software platform for the property’s online casino efforts if iGaming were to become legal.
The following year, Mount Airy launched a cross promotional effort to advertise 888 Casino NJ on its website and inside its land-based facility. Players who sign up through Mount Airy can receive a $25 no-deposit bonus, which they can only use when they are physically inside the state of New Jersey.
888 also endeavors to host its own branded gaming site in PA, as it does in the Garden State through its partnership with Caesars.
Mount Airy recently scored a major partnership with online poker giant PokerStars, which will offer a full suite of online casino and peer-to-peer poker games through the licensee. It also revealed it would spread a sports betting product under the BetStars brand in a PGCB licensing filing. That doesn’t rule out 888 from opening up its own virtual card room through the property though.
Parx Casino is a state-of-the-art gambling facility featuring over 3,500 slots, 130 table games and 80 poker tables. The casino confirmed years ago that it would partner with GameAccount Network (GAN) should iGaming go live in the Commonwealth. GAN currently powers Parx’s social casino, ParxOnline.
In New Jersey, GAN provides the platform for Betfair Casino, one of the top grossing online casinos in the Garden State, along with the nascent Ocean Online Casino.
In 2015, GAN put out a press release confirming that it would work with Parx “for all forms of real money Internet gambling (including poker, for the avoidance of doubt) in the event the state of Pennsylvania enacts legislation to regulate real money Internet gaming.”
The casino has kept its word. What’s more, the property will utilize GAN software for not just its online casino and poker products, but also in part with their otherwise Kambi-powered sportsbooks. The real-world sports betting operation is currently live, with the online sports book still being built.
SugarHouse, owned by HSP Gaming and managed by Rush Street Gaming, is Philadelphia’s only casino. In New Jersey, the property is partnered with Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget, and operates its own branded online gambling site using a platform developed by its internal iGaming wing, Rush Street Interactive.
Even though it got a late start in the state – launching three years after the industry went live there – it has done quite well for itself, carving out a niche in a crowded market.
The Rush Street software stands out in several key areas, which have delighted customers and kept them coming back for more.
More recently, SugarHouse launched its own NJ online sportsbook in a partnership with software provider Kambi, a relationship it has also brought to its PA brick-and-mortar sports wagering offering (and soon will for its online book as well).
On its home turf, we expect SugarHouse to thrive, coming right out of the gate with an extremely strong product.
Located in Pittsburgh, Rivers Casino is also owned by Rush Street Gaming, and was the state’s third highest grossing casino in 2017.
We had initially thought that Rivers Casino getting into online gambling was a slamdunk, but that turned out not to be the case. The property was indeed part of the initial wave of casinos to buy a package of online gambling licenses, but eventually had a change of heart and relinquished them back into the pool.
Instead of spending the $10 million required, Rivers will likely simply advertise the online casino of its sister venue, SugarHouse, instead.
The property is not backing away from sports betting, however, and plans to use the same combination of Rush Street and Kambi power that Play SugarHouse leverages in its New Jersey site and at both the Rivers and SugarHouse land-based PA sports books.
Some thought that hell would freeze over before Sands Bethlehem applied for an online gaming license, but circumstances have now changed. In March 2018, the state’s second biggest revenue generator entered into a definitive purchasing agreement with Wind Creek Hospitality, a subsidiary of the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Poarch Creek will purchase the property for the staggering sum of $1.3 billion.
Las Vegas Sands, Sands Bethlehem’s parent company, is headed up by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a staunch opponent of the propagation of online gambling in the US. Adelson has waged a multiyear war against the industry and has contributed generously to lawmakers who push his bespoke anti-gaming bill, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.
The changing of the guard will effectively reduce Adelson’s business interests in the Pennsylvania market to nil. New owner Poarch Creek has no confirmed experience in the iGaming space, nor does it have an online gambling partner, but it’s now clear the tribe will fully embrace online gambling, and possibly sports betting.
In either case, the tribe will have its hands full, as it has never operated a casino that has supported table games, and Sands is currently the unequivocal table games king in PA.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National
The gambling package which legalized online casinos in Pennsylvania has had enormous consequences for Penn National’s Granville property, in more ways than one. iGaming aside, the law also allows for the construction of 10 satellite casinos spread throughout the state, a serious threat for Hollywood, whose location puts it at unique risk of having its profits cannibalized by encroaching competitors.
In reaction, Penn National made a defensive blocking bet, snapping up the first mini casino license for the eye-watering price of $50.1 million, more than 7x the minimum bid.
Penn National’s licensing splurge continued into virtual gambling. It bought licenses for all three online gambling verticals, and revealed that it would partner with IGT to power those services.
The casino was also the first to break the silence in terms of sports betting, grabbing the first $10 million permit in August. The property turned to British bookmaker William Hill to turn its sports betting visions into reality and invested $10 million+ in its live sportsbook.
Valley Forge Casino Resort
New Jersey’s iGaming industry has provided us with several interesting revelations, one of which being that small brands can compete with or even surpass well-known competitors in the online space.
Case in point: Betfair, an established European brand relatively unknown in the US, has become one of the state’s top earning online casinos. The site is licensed through Golden Nugget (GN), itself a smaller brand which has exceeded all expectations in the state, consistently outperformed better-known casinos like Caesars and Borgata. The success achieved by sites licensed under GN gave hope to smaller operators like Valley Forge to potentially have the same impact in PA.
Valley Forge has had its eye on Internet gambling for some time. In 2015, GVC (formerly bwin.party) announced that it had partnered with a Pennsylvania casino to provide gambling software in the event iGaming were legalized – that casino was reportedly Valley Forge.
The gambling landscape has changed drastically over the past three years, however, including bwin.party being acquired by GVC. Also, in December 2017, Valley Forge was purchased by former Borgata co-owner Boyd Gaming. Boyd had experience in the iGaming space, via its time with Borgata, and through its connected mobile sports betting app in Nevada.
Valley Forge then confirmed that instead of going with the GVC platform, it had plans to partner with IGT to power all three of its online gambling verticals. Things got even more complicated with the operator decided to play host to the popular FanDuel Sportsbook brand, which entered into an official partnership with Boyd Gaming in August.
Valley Forge thus now has a live physical FanDuel-branded and IGT-powered sportsbook, and soon thanks to the specific PGCB regulations FanDuel will have a Valley Forge-branded and IGT powered online one.
Presque Isle Downs
Before its announced acquisition by horseracing and gaming giant Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) in March, it was anyone’s guess whether Presque Isle would move forward with its own online gambling site. Now we have confirmation that it will, although in a limited capacity.
Presque Isle purchased licenses to offer virtual slots and table games for $4 million apiece, but opted out of online poker.
In a PGCB meeting, the property divulged that it would operate its gaming site under the BetAmerica brand and utilize the SBTech platform for both its casino and sports betting offering. This is somewhat surprising considering that Churchill Downs had reportedly invested significant resources in developing its own iGaming software.
Live! Hotel & Casino
Live! is a planned casino complex slated to be built in Philadelphia, near state’s sports epicenter. The developer was quick to purchase licenses to offer all three varieties of gambling games in PA, but things quickly got cloudy.
As of now, there is some doubt as to whether the project will get off the ground at all, although rumors have circulated that MGM might be interested in purchasing it.
After buying its iGaming licenses, Live!’s parent company decided to rescind its poker license, but kept its permits for slots and table games. Even so, it’s still very up in the air as to if will see ever see a Live! online casino.
Golden Nugget is a physical casino located in Atlantic City that does not have a land-based presence in PA. However, after the exclusivity window for Commonwealth casinos to purchase iGaming licenses expired, the leftover permits were offered up to qualified outside entities (like Golden Nugget).
Golden Nugget, which is the top online gambling licensee in the Garden State by a mile, was one of two outsiders to spring for PA online casino licenses (slots and table games only).
We are under the assumption that GN will continue its relationship with NYX, with which it has had much success in neighboring New Jersey.
The massive casino conglomerate MGM Resorts was the second qualified gaming entity to apply for a license in PA, requesting all three gaming types. The company operates over a dozen casinos in Las Vegas, along with many others scattered across the US.
It comes as no surprise that MGM would want to expand into PA; the company is heavily involved in iGaming in New Jersey, where it operates online casinos and poker sites through Borgata.
MGM is also making major moves in the world of sports betting, recently striking partnerships with both the NBA and NHL. It’s important to note that its online casino certificate will not give it carte blanche to become a top-level sportsbook licensee, that opportunity is reserved for state slot license holders. It could, however, be added as an online skin of one of the state’s 13 casinos.
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