Pennsylvania Online Poker Liquidity Sharing Unlikely, But Still Possible, In 2020

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Online casino gambling in Pennsylvania has witnessed a significant uptick after the sports world was put on ice this month. The NBA was the first big domino to fall, and more sports shut down in its wake.

The Pennsylvania retail casino industry was ordered to come to a standstill on March 16, after six casinos had already closed their doors amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Brick-and-mortar casino revenue for the month will fall at least 50% in a year-over-year comparison. In February, the 12 retail casinos took in about $277 million in revenue from slots and table games. Revenue was more than $300 million in March 2019.

Online/mobile sports wagering is still hanging on with some markets still open, but revenue will plunge from the $11.4 million in February, as leagues discuss potential timelines for resuming.

Meanwhile, peer-to-peer online poker is thriving. PokerStars PA, Pennsylvania’s lone poker platform, has seen its numbers explode, with peak traffic recently reaching well more than 3,000 players on a weekday. The sign-ups continue ticking up, as “social distancing” continues and more weeks go by without sports.

This weekend, PokerStars will host the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker, offering 50 unique events over 17 days. The series will offer $2 million worth of guaranteed prize money, with buy-ins as low as $5 and as high as $500. Thanks to its size, along with social distancing, the series should produce very impressive participation numbers for the nascent Pennsylvania iPoker industry.

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Perfect time for liquidity sharing?

The looming question out there for Pennsylvania online poker is whether it might enter into what it calls an “interactive gaming reciprocal agreement” with New Jersey. There is the unresolved Wire Act case that complicates the interest for an agreement right now, but Pennsylvania still has the option of joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware as states that share liquidity.

PokerStars doesn’t operate in either Nevada or Delaware, so the thinking is that Pennsylvania could link up at first only with New Jersey, and its menu of platforms. Michigan and West Virginia are two states with pending online poker (and casino) markets, having both legalized in 2019.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board told Penn Bets last week that online poker liquidity sharing in 2020 is possible, but it appears unlikely. “While it could happen, that is not something that we could predict in regards to a time frame before the COVID-19 matter, so certainly not something on any radar right now,” PGCB Director of Communications Doug Harbach said.

When the day comes, Pennsylvania would add its almost 13 million population to New Jersey’s roughly 9 million to grow the market to nearly 22 million, creating a much healthier ecosystem. The potential player pool would be about the same size as if Florida had its own ring-fenced online poker industry.

Success from the start

PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, 2019, following online casino gambling kicking off in the summer with several operators. PokerStars hit the ground running, generating $1.96 million in revenue, also called the rake, during the month. It followed it up with $2.47 million in December, $2.15 million in January, and $1.83 million in February.

Impressive figures out of the gate, but revenue was on a slight decline prior to mid-March’s uptick.

The numbers have been much stronger than PokerStars’ sister site in New Jersey. Resorts Digital Gaming, partner of PokerStars NJ, reported $1.16 million in online poker revenue through the first two months of this year, per state figures. In the Garden State, PokerStars has competition with Borgata (Party Poker) and Caesar Interactive Entertainment (WSOP/888).

CIE reported $1.52 million in revenue for January and February combined, while Borgata reported $933,000 in the same period. Despite three operators, New Jersey’s online poker market is worth less per month than Pennsylvania’s. The Garden State player pool has more to gain from liquidity sharing with Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania would see a substantial boost as well.

Both Caesars (Harrah’s) and Borgata are seeking Pennsylvania poker entry. Mount Airy Casino Resort, PokerStars’ Pennsylvania partner, is the only casino currently authorized for online poker in the Keystone State. The PGCB is still holding online meetings in 2020, with one scheduled for Wednesday.

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Brian Pempus

Brian served as a senior reporter and online content manager for Card Player Magazine for nearly a decade before joining USBets in October 2018. He is currently focused on legal and regulated sports betting and online gaming. He's an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner in his free time.

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