The COVID-19 pandemic has been good news for fledgling online poker sites in the U.S. and has so far set up a competition of sorts between the markets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board released revenue data on the state’s casino gambling industry from July. PokerStars, which partnered with the Mount Airy retail casino in order to offer games within Keystone State borders, reported a hair below $3 million in rake, down 8% compared to June’s $3.2 million. There’s no year-over-year comparison yet because the market is less a year old.
It’s still good times for Pennsylvania’s lone online poker site. PokerStars PA launched in November, and it averaged about $2.1 million in rake per month from November to February.
Penn Bets found in late June that traffic had fallen off on PokerStars after an initial boom during the early days of the pandemic. As spring turned into summer and people started staying home less and less, whether for work or for pleasure, revenue took a bit of a hit.
Below is a look at Pennsylvania’s legal and regulated online poker market since it began, with month-over-month changes and a comparison to New Jersey.
|Month||Rake||M-o-M change||New Jersey iPoker rake|
Due to the virus, none of Pennsylvania’s 185 live poker tables are back in operation. Atlantic City poker rooms also remained closed while other casino offerings have resumed.
April remains Pennsylvania’s best month to date, which is no surprise considering PokerStars held its Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) tournament series in April, which featured a whopping 100 tournaments for players of all bankroll sizes.
PokerStars NJ held its New Jersey SCOOP in April, and Borgata/PartyPoker ran a prominent spring tournament series that month as well. April has the record for the New Jersey iPoker market.
WSOP.com, a Caesars Interactive Entertainment product powered by 888, kicked off its prestigious online bracelet series in New Jersey on July 1, which siphoned off some of the market belonging to neighboring Pennsylvania. The events are inaccessible in Pennsylvania.
Outside a marquee tournament series, it appears that some customers aren’t impressed by the tournament options on PokerStars PA. It’s not surprising, considering the ring-fenced nature of the market. New Jersey allows WSOP/888 to share liquidity with Nevada and Delaware.
Been playing some @PokerStars PA while here in Lake Harmony. I have to say if you like turbos and PKOs it’s a great site for you. Just a really bad tournament schedule.
— Pokerdad2878 (@Pokerdad2878) August 19, 2020
PokerStars PA has tried to compensate on the heels of the WSOP running its first ever online-only summer bracelet schedule. It’s an uphill battle, because there’s no bigger poker brand during the summer than the WSOP.
This Sunday, August 23, PokerStars PA hosts "Pennsyl-MANIA," a two-day tournament with a $350K guaranteed prize pool. Details here: https://t.co/8ODLDRhjEC pic.twitter.com/xxzHMBHSvH
— PokerStars Blog (@PokerStarsBlog) August 18, 2020
More sites, sharing liquidity
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are believed to be actively engaged in discussions behind the scenes to eventually share liquidity, which could come to fruition sooner if there’s a new Department of Justice. In late 2018, the Trump DoJ put state-regulated online poker somewhat in the cross hairs with a reinterpretation of the 1961 Wire Act, which applies to gambling across state lines. While the reinterpretation didn’t result in the cessation of the NJ-NV-DE liquidity sharing arrangement, it has caused states, notably Pennsylvania, to take steps to protect its industry from federal intervention.
Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 pandemic shows few signs of abating in 2020, Caesars’ WSOP.com and MGM/Borgata’s PartyPoker are rumored to be eyeing a 2020 launch in Pennsylvania. There’s no timeline, but PokerStars PA’s days as the lone poker site in the state are likely numbered.
Even without liquidity sharing, the addition of two more poker platforms with their existing online gambling customer bases should propel ring-fenced Pennsylvania to a larger market than the one seen in New Jersey. However, that is ultimately of little importance, as combined the states have more than 21 million people, a much more attractive pool of players.
Sometime in 2021, Pennsylvania and New Jersey could have an online poker market in the state of Michigan nipping at their heels, as the Wolverine State expects to kick off online gambling as early as late this year. An online player pool of about 10% of the U.S. population would be formed if Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all allowed their regulated poker sites licensed in all three jurisdictions to share players. Nevada and Delaware, which have just one licensed operator apiece, aren’t open online poker markets, but that isn’t a big deal given their relatively small populations.
Source: Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board