PA Continues To Have Just One Online Poker Site, Though Two More Are Licensed To Deal

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Pennsylvania now has two more online poker sites authorized to start in the state, but there’s no indication when either will launch.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gave licensing approval at its monthly meeting Wednesday for iGaming by BetMGM/ROAR Digital, which would include the operator’s partypoker platform.

The board previously also licensed 888 Holdings for its WSOP poker site, which would be added to the iCasino already offered in the state by Caesars.

But in neither case have the operators indicated when they would begin, and a gaming board spokesman said test periods have not yet been requested or scheduled. Under such soft launches, the public may play the real-money games under limited hours with monitoring by board staff before issuing final approval.

Representatives of BetMGM and Caesars have not responded to requests from Penn Bets for any details of their new plans, including time frames.

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For the time being, the PokerStars site will remain the only online poker option in the state. It generated $2.4 million in revenue from play in September, slightly less than New Jersey’s three sites combined.

BetMGM also interested in sports betting

BetMGM, which provides sports wagering in multiple states, also won approval Wednesday for a sports wagering operator license in Pennsylvania, although there’s no clear indication of how it would operate in the state.

BetMGM has no casino in Pennsylvania. The state’s gaming expansion law allowed it to obtain licensing for an online casino without any physical location in the state. Both it and Golden Nugget plan to offer iGaming to compete with the 12 existing online casinos in Pennsylvania that already generate nearly $60 million in monthly revenue.

But the law does not provide the same option to non-Pennsylvania gaming operators to run an online sportsbook.

“They would need to link with a certificate holder in order to offer sports wagering,” board spokesman Doug Harbach said in an email, referring to the Pennsylvania casinos already licensed for sportsbooks.

The existing casinos all have relationships for their sportsbook operations already in place, although such agreements are always subject to change.

BetMGM officials have not disclosed any public information about their intent or means to offer sports wagering.

Mount Airy, Rivers Philadelphia both penalized

The gaming board’s actions Wednesday included fines against Mount Airy Casino Resort and Rivers Casino Philadelphia for violating rules concerning issuance of free slot play — in this case, the two casinos awarding more of it than is permitted and without proper controls.

“Complimentary free play is widely offered by all casinos in Pennsylvania as a marketing tool to build and reward patron loyalty and drive repeat visits of customers who might otherwise patronize a casino outside of the Commonwealth,” according to a press release from the board.

“Casinos must, however, submit to and gain authorization from the Board of a ‘Comp Matrix’ which outlines who can issue complimentary free slot play and the maximum dollars that each employee is authorized to issue, and then adhere to the plan.”

The violation by Mount Airy was the more serious one, carrying a $90,000 fine under a consent agreement. One employee was charged with a felony theft crime related to 491 instances in which employees issued discretionary free slot pay that exceeded the authorized limit and totaled $262,500.

The Rivers Philadelphia case did not involve criminal action. The consent agreement stated, however, there were 405 instances of discretionary free slot play that violated guidelines and resulted in $26,562 in free slot play that should not have been awarded. Casino representatives said during the board’s meeting that some employees who issued the slot play had changed positions and were newly authorized to do so, but their job titles had not been updated to indicate that.

State officials have a financial interest in the award of free slot play, as there’s a 54% tax on slots revenue generated by the casinos, which is not collected when such comps are provided.

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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