The website and app, affiliated with Caesars-owned Harrah’s Philadelphia but separate from the online sportsbook/casino already established by Caesars, went live at 2 p.m. under monitoring by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
No-limit hold’em cash games and real-money tournaments — and possible other poker variants — were to be played at different stakes levels through 10 p.m. on the first day. Subsequent test hours are from noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday and noon to midnight Wednesday, with the assumption that the site will be approved for permanent operation Thursday. No play or deposits are possible from Monday through Wednesday outside of the test hours.
WSOP joins PokerStars, which began in Pennsylvania in November 2019, and the shared poker platform of BetMGM and Borgata, which launched April 27. The three-way competition now matches that which has long been in place in New Jersey.
The main difference from New Jersey is that the WSOP site there is part of a multi-state compact that also includes players from Delaware and Nevada participating in the same games and tournaments across state lines. Pennsylvania and Michigan are expected to eventually join in such compacts, although the timing for doing so is uncertain due to various discussions and required approvals.
WSOP enters with a strong brand
The new site is expected to draw heavy interest from the online poker community due to its connection to the famed World Series of Poker, held annually in Las Vegas. WSOP.com advertises various satellite tournaments and online tournaments connected to the World Series of Poker.
It also advertises welcome offers for new customers, such as $50 free play, entry into seven $100 free-roll tournaments, and a 100% deposit match up to $1,000, which is dependent upon the extent to which a player uses the site.
As there is no link to the existing Caesars online site in the state, players who have used that site are required to create new accounts for WSOP.com, going through the registration process and depositing funds anew. Some players commented on Twitter that they were having difficulties with that initial process Monday afternoon.
— WSOP (@WSOP) July 12, 2021
Poker games began almost immediately after the 2 p.m. launch for some players, however, as several cash tables were open and more than a dozen players by 2:30 had paid a $5 buy-in for a Texas hold’em tournament with a guaranteed $250 prize payout.
Stronger clarity still sought on poker compacts
In light of the relatively small impact that Borgata/BetMGM made with its arrival on Pennsylvania’s poker scene this spring, it will be interesting to see if the better-known WSOP brand launches stronger.
In May, PokerStars claimed $2.26 million in revenue/rake from players, while MGM/Borgata took in $346,019, according to gaming board figures. Presumably, players were still learning about and becoming familiar with MGM/Borgata, which, like PokerStars, offers a variety of games at wide-ranging buy-in levels, as well as tournaments with different prize amounts throughout the day.
The level of WSOP.com’s early competitive success may not be evident until mid-September, once revenue figures are released for its first full month of operation in August. It is expected that all of the sites will receive revenue boosts once entry is possible into the multi-state compacts expected to attract more players, with many more games and tournaments likely to be available from the greater volume.
Attorneys general in the various states involved, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, have sought stronger clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice that its interpretation of the federal Wire Act enables the states to enter into such compacts without legal concerns.
Asked for the gaming board’s current position on proceeding, spokesman Doug Harbach said by email, “We believe the recent effort by letter for clarification on this issue from our Attorney General and those in other states can be helpful to the industry and to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in moving forward with a poker compact.
“At the same time, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office must approve any contractual agreement with another state, such as the poker compact, with that agreement also reviewed and approved by the Office of the Attorney General.”