Keystone State online casino gaming kicked off in July, but online poker, arguably the OG of internet gambling in the eyes of many Americans, didn’t come with it.
Pennsylvania legalized online poker in 2017, and before that poker players were waiting for years for the state to pass legislation allowing companies to offer legal and regulated iPoker.
While online/mobile sports betting and internet casino gaming are starting to take off in the Keystone State, online poker remains notably absent. It’s not terribly surprising that there’s been no rush to kick off the activity, considering the lackluster revenues in neighboring New Jersey. In 2019, Garden State online poker is down 2.1% through September in a year-over-year comparison, while other iCasino games are up a whopping 61.8%. Though there have been moments of optimism, New Jersey online poker hasn’t been successful from a market standpoint since it began in late 2013.
The name of the game is liquidity. There is player pooling on the WSOP.com platform across New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, but it hasn’t been enough. The hope is that once Pennsylvania comes online, and eventually shares players with the other online poker states, the game might turn things around.
More liquidity means larger tournament prize pools, better cash game selection, and, for the more experienced players, more opportunities to win some money. The peer-to-peer nature of online poker makes liquidity paramount.
PokerStars is rumored to be the company closest to launching in Pennsylvania. PokerStars isn’t involved with Nevada, but a combo of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey player pools is attractive. Altogether, eight casino license holders in Pennsylvania were seeking to offer online poker, according to a list of filed petitions with the PGCB. It’s unclear how many still will go forward with poker all these months later. The WSOP.com platform is also expected to be live in Pennsylvania at some point.
There are just three online casinos live in Pennsylvania right now — products from Hollywood, Parx, and SugarHouse. The latter two properties have the largest two live poker rooms in the state, based on the most recent revenue figures from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Live poker lagging
To complicate matters a bit ahead of the state’s foray into online poker, Pennsylvania’s live poker market is stuck in reverse. Brick-and-mortar casino gaming overall in Pennsylvania has been sluggish in 2019, but the state of the live poker market is definitely a cause for concern for a ring-fenced Pennsylvania online poker market (again, liquidity is so important).
According to figures (below) from the PGCB, the state’s 10 rooms, home to a combined 225 tables (give or take a few depending on the month), collectively have seen revenue fall 3.4% through the first nine months of 2019 compared to 2018. The numbers indicate people are playing less live poker than before, which isn’t what any potential online poker operator would want to see ahead of launching. The silver lining is that the current state of affairs should provide even more of an impetus for Pennsylvania and New Jersey to forge a liquidity sharing agreement to see if online poker can reverse course in the near-term.
In the long-term, U.S. online poker does have a lot of promise, considering that states legalizing online/mobile sports betting will be poised to consider other forms of online gaming in the years ahead. However, for many Pennsylvanians, they want online poker in whatever capacity in the meantime.
Here’s a revenue comparison for live poker in Pennsylvania for the first nine months of this year and the same nine months in 2018:
- January: $4,415,969
- February: $4,722,116
- March: $5,015,799
- April: $4,467,514
- May: $4,692,216
- June: $4,216,506
- July: $4,559,749
- August: $4,725,451
- September: $4,095,953
- January: $4,634,979
- February: $4,674,312
- March: $5,490,882
- April: $4,624,027
- May: $4,747,074
- June: $4,442,674
- July: $4,803,696
- August: $4,758,723
- September: $4,182,222