Some Sites In PA See Surge Already In Online Casino Play During Coronavirus Shutdown

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When a resident of Lititz, Pa., hit a $278,430 jackpot over the weekend with a $1 wager on the PlaySugarHouse online casino’s Divine Fortune progressive slot, the operator wasted no time letting everyone know in a press release.

“During this very difficult and unprecedented period of time while most are staying home, it’s nice that we can provide another outlet for entertainment and a chance to win life-changing jackpots,” said Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer of Rush Street Interactive.

Rush Street Gaming is owner of the Rivers Casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and its interactive affiliate operates PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers, the two online sites tied to the casinos.

The physical casinos, two of the largest in Pennsylvania, have been closed for a week by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Their online sportsbooks continue operating, but with a fraction of the normal action due to mass cancellations of major sporting events.

But the online casinos? That’s a different story.

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Rush Street says new signups increase 4X

“We are seeing an increase in casino play online as all land-based casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have closed,” Stetz said in an email. “We are seeing about 4-5 times as many new casino customers signing up compared to what we would expect considering seasonality right now.”

There are six other online casinos in Pennsylvania besides the two from Rush Street. One would assume those competitors are experiencing their own increased traffic as regular casino visitors seek an outlet for their pastime, whether by using their smartphones and desktops as a new way to gamble or by adding to any online slots, blackjack, or other play they already did.

FanDuel, which quickly became the top revenue generator among the state’s iCasinos in February, verified its own recent increase with the following statement: “We’ve seen a jump in new casino players in the last week in PA as casino games have become some of the most appealing content within our sportsbook app.”

Most of the operators, however, declined to provide details to Penn Bets about the extent to which they’re seeing any surge or doing anything new to attract such customers.

“It’s far too early to tell what the impact might be in terms of online gaming,” said Eric Schippers, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming and its Hollywood Casino online site.

“Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, we had launched new features and content to our site/app, but those changes were based on enhancing the customer experience and had nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

Sites look similar to their outset

An examination of the eight online sites suggests, in fact, their offerings are very similar to when they started — whether they were one of the first three iCasinos to launch in July or among those to debut since then, including the three additions in late January.

Some have added more slots since they started, but they all have fewer than 100 options, whereas the more mature sites in New Jersey run by some of the same operators have several hundred games.

There are still no live dealer games in Pennsylvania, unlike New Jersey. Parx Casino said in January it was preparing to start those in partnership with Evolution Gaming, which provides immensely popular live dealer versions of table games in New Jersey, but no timetable has been announced for when those will begin.

And there remains just one poker site in the state, run by PokerStars in connection with Mount Airy Casino Resort, although more could be coming in the next several months.

If Sunday afternoon’s volume of play on the PokerStars site was any indication, there are plenty of people forced indoors who are looking to use the game as either a diversion or income source. At 2 p.m., there were at least 850 players taking seats at more than 130 no-limit cash games ranging in stakes from .01/.02 to $2.50/$5, in addition to 700-plus players registered in the three tournaments that started between 1:30 and 2.

Eddie Motl, a spokesman for PokerStars, said new poker signups have been “growing strongly in recent weeks,” and that its iCasino has seen a particular spike in the volume of play on its blackjack, roulette, and Divine Fortune slot options.

Aside from more poker operators being expected in 2020, there could be new iCasino sites available this year from the state’s casinos that haven’t started them yet, including Harrah’s Philadelphia and Wind Creek Bethlehem, and two out-of-state operators that applied for licenses and are awaiting regulatory approval: BetMGM and Golden Nugget.

Online gaming brings 6% of industry revenue

The ability of Pennsylvania gamblers to indulge their hobby without leaving home during the crisis makes the state appear prescient for having included online gaming in 2017 legislation. It joined only New Jersey and Delaware as states that have online slots, table games, and poker in operation, as well as mobile sports betting.

The allowance for online play means the state’s casino industry, while still crippled during the pandemic, is not shut down 100% as in most states.

In February, the $19.5 million in iCasino revenue from the eight sites represented 6.4% of the state’s overall take from commercial gaming.

The iCasino play last month provided $6.8 million in government tax dollars — slots are taxed at 54%, table games at 16% — and the revenue and tax receipts for March will undoubtedly be much higher.

For those who haven’t yet tried online casinos, this could be a good time to do so, especially considering the many financial incentives they offer for new customers. (Customers must be 21 or older, and can only wager from within Pennsylvania.)

In many cases, the iCasinos are part of the operators’ sportsbook sites, using a shared account so that if you are already a sports bettor with them it’s easy to transition over to play blackjack or slots with the same funds available for sports wagers. Those with existing sports accounts, however, may not necessarily be eligible for the welcome bonuses offered by the iCasinos to new customers.

Here’s a rundown of what the sites currently offer, although it might also be wise to check them periodically during the brick-and-mortar casinos’ closures in case of any potential new offers.

Hollywood

Casino games: 83 slots, 5 roulette, 2 blackjack, 1 baccarat, 1 GameKing video poker with 9 game options

Welcome offer: $25 sign-up bonus, plus a match up to $500 for a player’s first deposit (the matched funds have to be gambled through 20X before they can be withdrawn)

Parx

Casino games: 98 slots, 5 roulette, 2 blackjack, 2 baccarat, GameKing video poker with 9 options and 1 Jacks or Better video poker

Welcome offer: Deposit match up to $500, with a 20X play-through requirement

PlaySugarHouse/BetRivers

Note: The two sites operated by Rush Street Interactive are identical to one another, both operating under the Rivers Casino Philadelphia license

Casino games: 78 slots, 4 roulette, 2 blackjack, 1 baccarat, 1 GameKing video poker with 9 game options

Welcome offer: Deposit match up to $250, with only a 1X play-through requirement before funds can be withdrawn

PokerStars

Note: Interactive poker play in cash games and tournaments is available on the site along with casino games and sports betting

Casino games: 57 slots, 1 roulette, 1 blackjack, 10 video poker

Welcome offer: Three deposit matches of up to $500 each within a 28-day period are possible for casino games, with an explanation on the site of how redemption points must be earned from volume of play before the matched money belongs to the player. Poker players can receive up to $600 in sign-up bonuses.

Unibet (partner of Mohegan Sun Pocono)

Casino games: 75 slots, 6 roulette, 2 blackjack, 1 baccarat, 4 video poker

Welcome offer: $10 free play and a deposit match up to $500, with a play-through requirement of 3X on slots and 10X on table games

FanDuel (Valley Forge Casino Resort)

Note: Unlike other sites, no desktop version was available at launch and the games can only be played via smartphone/tablet apps.

Casino games: 12 slots, 3 roulette, 2 blackjack

Welcome offer: A “risk-free” provision for the first 24 hours after joining the site and starting play means any losses up to $200 will be refunded to the player’s account

BetAmerica (Presque Isle Downs)

Note: Unlike other sites, no phone apps were initially made available, and the games below have been available on desktop

Casino games: 55 slots, 4 roulette, 1 blackjack

Welcome offer: 100% deposit match up to $125, with a 10X play-through requirement

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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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