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, 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.
While we know which casinos have applied, it’s still not clear which software suppliers each of those venues will choose to partner with. That said, here’s what we know and what we can deduce about the future of iGaming alliances in the Keystone State.
Quick look at PA iGaming Partnerships
|B&M Casino||Online Casino Partner||Online Poker Option?|
|Harrah’s Philadelphia||SG Digital (Probable)||Likely: 888|
|Mohegan Sun Pocono||SG Digital (Probable)||Yes|
|Parx Casino||GAN (Confirmed)||Likely|
|Mount Airy Casino Resort||888 (Confirmed)||PokerStars (Confirmed)|
|SugarHouse Casino||Rush Street Interactive (Confirmed)||Possible|
|Rivers Casino||Rush Street Interactive (Confirmed)||Possible|
|Sands Bethlehem||No confirmed partner||Unknown|
|The Meadows||Not licensed||No|
|Hollywood Casino at Penn National||SG Digital (Possible)||Unknown|
|Presque Isle Downs||Churchhill Downs (Probable)||No|
|Lady Luck Nemacolin||Not licensed||No|
|Valley Forge||GVC (Probable)||Likely: GVC|
Harrah’s Philadelphia (Probable partners: SG Digital/888)
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, we think that Caesars’ relationship with 888 will continue in PA. This would give Harrah’s the chance to leverage interstate poker compacts and feed players into one large network.
Mohegan Sun Pocono (Probable partners: SG Digital/PokerStars)
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, which could claim one of Mohegan’s other potential licenses.
SG Digital powers Mohegan Sun Casino in the Garden State, and will likely do the same for the company’s PA offering.
PokerStars’ NJ poker room leverages its own award-winning software, which also runs a handful of casino games.
In October 2017, the governors of New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada struck a deal to allow operators to pool their respective poker players into networks. PokerStars would stand to gain immensely if it could expand out of NJ, the only state where it is currently allowed to operate.
Mount Airy Casino Resort (Confirmed partner: 888)
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 and poker 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 Interactive Entertainment.
Mount Airy recently took advantage of another aspect of last year’s legislation expanding gambling in the state, purchasing the rights to its own satellite casino in Lawrence County.
Parx Casino (Confirmed partner: GameAccount Network)
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.
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.”
That said, statements by Parx officials over the past few years have made it clear that the company is extremely wary, perhaps even opposed, to online gambling. In 2014, Parx Chairman Bob Green commented that while he was skeptical of iGaming, the casino would play a role in shaping and participating in the industry if legalized.
Now that online gambling is a reality, Parx has taken steps to protect its brand and limit competition, recently lobbying regulators to restrict Interactive Gaming Operators (iGaming skins) to one per property. The effort was unsuccessful, as PA regulators decided to allow operators to spin off unlimited skins. Parx had more success lobbying against sports betting skins. The PGCB decided that sports betting certificate holders can create just one online or mobile sportsbook under one brand name.
SugarHouse Casino (Confirmed partner: Rush Street Interactive)
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.
The Rush Street software stands apart in a few key areas, which have delighted customers and kept them coming back for more. For one, developers have succeeded in fostering a community feel by focusing on recent winners, displaying big scores in real time prominently on the site.
They have also implemented innovative features which other sites lack, including a robust filtering system that allows players to explore and discover games in a granular way.
What’s more, Rush Street has revamped the idea of loyalty programs, diverging from the bland cashback incentives offered by competitors.
On its home turf, we expect SugarHouse to thrive, coming right out of the gates with an extremely strong offering.
Rivers Casino (Confirmed partner: Rush Street Interactive)
Located in Pittsburgh, Rivers Casino is also owned by Rush Street Gaming and was the state’s third highest grossing casino in 2017. We fully expect Rivers to leverage the homegrown Rush Street platform, which has already proven itself in the crowded New Jersey online casino landscape.
Its parent company’s foray into NJ should pay dividends for both Rivers and SugarHouse, turning them into dominant players in the state’s forthcoming and likely competitive iGaming industry.
Indeed, the company has had its eye on Internet gaming for years, getting its start by launching play money casino sites for its properties, including one available on the Rivers website.
The social casino is powered by a separate software maker, however, and will hardly compare to what the company has in store for customers with its flagship platform.
Sands Bethlehem (No confirmed partner)
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 (Possible partner: SG Digital)
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 fully plans to jump into the iGaming waters as well, submitting its online casino application in July. The company has for years expressed a keen interest in Internet gambling, going so far as creating its own iGaming division in 2015.
What’s more, it already offers a Play4Fun social casino for patrons through the Hollywood website on a platform powered by SG Digital.
Continuing with SG, a very successful player in the Garden State, would be a natural fit for the company, who will want to get up and running with a solid software solution as fast as possible.
The Meadows Racetrack and Casino (Possible partner: SG Digital)
The Meadows hasn’t had much to say about its plans for iGaming, and as of July hadn’t applied to offer any of the three online verticals allowed. Even so, we think that there’s a good possibility that it will take the plunge.
After all, the property has long been a champion of new technology, pioneering the Call-a-Bet system back in the 80s, which allowed gamblers to phone-in their horseracing wagers. And what better way to keep up with the changing times than to offer its suite of slots and table games online?
The Meadows is operated by Pinnacle Entertainment, which recently agreed to merge with Penn National, owners of Hollywood Casino. For that reason, we suspect that the both The Meadows and Hollywood will adopt the same SG Digital platform.
Valley Forge Casino Resort (Probable partner: GVC)
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 should give hope to smaller operators like Valley Forge, which could 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 online casino to provide gambling software in the event iGaming were legalized. Subsequent media reports, along with industry rumors suggest that the casino in question was Valley Forge. The GVC platform powers the online slots, table games and poker rooms for playMGM, Party Poker and Borgata in New Jersey.
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 has some experience in the iGaming space, via its time with Borgata, and through its connected mobile sports betting app in Nevada.
The company remains positive on iGaming, and it wouldn’t shock if Boyd provided its own proprietary platform, although we still think GVC seems the more likely choice.
If a deal to share online poker player pools is solidified in PA, as many believe it will be, GVC would certainly connect Valley Forge players to its poker network already operating in the Garden State.
Presque Isle Downs (Probably partner: Churchill 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. We now believe with near certainty that it will.
CDI has been itching to expand into online casino, and possibly even online poker, for many years. In 2014, it attempted to purchase the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel and Casino in New Jersey in an effort to open an internet gaming site in the state, but the sale fell through.
That hasn’t stopped the company from pumping millions into the development of its own proprietary online gambling platform in the meantime, as confirmed by Churchill CEO Bob Evans that same year. With the purchase of Presque Isle, we might soon see the fruits of that labor.
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