The land-based Harrah’s was among the first wave of land-based casinos granted approval for an Interactive Gaming Certificate by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board last Wednesday, and has since unveiled info about what sites we should expect to see housed under its brand.
The answer: Parallels of those already operating in the New Jersey market.
Welcoming back an old friend
It was never really much in doubt that Harrah’s Philadelphia would play parent casino to the WSOP.com brand, but a presser released by CIE and WSOP Vice President of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky confirmed it.
The launch of WSOP.com in Pennsylvania will place the brand in an enviable position, as it already supports operations in two other regulated U.S. markets. CIE isn’t shy about pointing this out:
“CIE is the only U.S. operator with online gaming products in both Nevada and New Jersey, and will become the only operator in the United States to be able to offer services in the three largest regulated jurisdictions with online gaming – Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Jersey.”
WSOP.com is the clear market share leader in the NJ online poker market, having stole the crown from PokerStars in May, and never looking back. It is not coincidental that May was the same month that 888-branded sites (including WSOP.com) in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware began sharing liquidity. The operator’s $15 Million Summer, which included multiple seven figure tournament series and the gifting of four online WSOP bracelets, have only served to bolster the brand’s reputation in the emergent U.S. market.
It is certainly not a slam dunk that WSOP.com PA will link up with its counterparts in New Jersey and Nevada on the “go live” date. However, it seems nearly inevitable that the Pennsylvania branch of the site will join Multi-State Internet Gaming Association at some point in the not so distant future.
This would increase the population reach of the site to 25 million, effectively doubling its current reach, and providing those who have clung to black market sites with their first legitimate alternative.
Not all roses
Even if WSOP.com spans all three states, the path to dominance isn’t without its hurdles. For one, PokerStars also stands to have a strong presence in the Keystone State, having already forged a partnership with Mt. Airy Casino. PokerStars too, will likely share liquidity with its New Jersey operation, although it is currently banned from operating in the state of Nevada.
On the topic of Mt. Airy, the land-based casino also plans to offer 888 Poker through its license. This creates an interesting dynamic, as in New Jersey, WSOP.com (which is powered by 888) and 888 Poker are both housed under the same license (Caesars AC) and share partial liquidity. In Pennsylvania, it looks like they’ll be competitors.
Not to mention, no less than 10 Pennsylvania casinos have applied for an online poker license, potentially creating a climate where the market is saturated. It’s exceedingly unlikely that some license holders will exercise their right to support an online poker site, and of the ones that do, some may fail, but every dollar flowing into another site is one WSOP.com does not see.
And while WSOP.com has become the market share leader in New Jersey, its revenue looks to have been cannibalized from other operators. In other words, shared liquidity has failed to grow the NJ online poker market, signaling the general stagnation of the industry. Interest in online poker should initially surge once PA joins arms with the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association, but given the general decline of legal U.S. online poker, there’s no guarantee that it will last.
Lastly, WSOP.com will be forced to compromise its strong branding in Pennsylvania, as regulations dictate that online poker sites be intimately connected to the license holder. This might be less of a problem if WSOP.com were connected to Parx Casino or another strong local brand, but Harrah’s has more of a middling presence in Pennsylvania.
None of these challenges seem to have shaken the confidence of CIE, however:
“We’re very bullish on the offering online gaming provides our guests and are excited for the opportunity Pennsylvania presents,” said Melanie Gross, CIE’s vice president of online casino. “We have a wealth of knowledge and experience from our six years in the online gaming space in the U.S. and believe we’ll be able to hit the ground running in Pennsylvania when online gaming commences in the state.”
Caesars Casino PA?
From the looks of it, the primary online casino brand affiliated with Harrah’s Philadelphia will be Caesars Casino.
There was still some question over who would power the site, as Caesars Casino in New Jersey is powered by Scientific Games, with Harrah’s online casino and 888 Casino (also under the Caesars license) making use of 888’s platform. But the marketing materials attached to the presser make it pretty obvious that the Scientific Games platform will be the one to launch in Pennsylvania.
This is by and large a good thing, as in our estimation, Caesars Casino is the strongest of Caesars brand in New Jersey, providing players with a wide array of gaming options, including over 400 slot titles, several progressives, and virtual sports. Certainly, 888 Casino has closed the gap of late, adding a multitude of games and Live Casino, but a gap still exists.
According to the presser, CaesarsCasino.com will offer:
- Roulette (both American and European-style)
- Video Poker
- Video Slots – a whole host of slot content from the best in the business, including some of the most popular games and others you will surely enjoy
Although this list doesn’t appear extraordinary, it does offer a few nuanced clues about what will see on CaesarsCasino.com. For one, table game odds stand to be favorable, as Caesars will offer European, or single-zero, roulette. This at least implies that there will be other table games on the site that offer a better climate for players than land-based casinos.
Secondly, notice that video slots were listed last. Maybe we’re reading too deeply into this, but it wouldn’t surprise if operators in Pennsylvania place less emphasis on slots in that market than in New Jersey, due to PA’s oppressive 54% tax rate on online slots.
Lastly, we notice that there was no inclusion of Live Casino games. Caesars online casino in NJ doesn’t offer them either, so their absence from the list doesn’t exactly shock, but the operator would be well advised to consider their placement, as they’ve proven a boon in other U.S. and European markets, and in PA, would be taxed at a reasonable 16%.