Pennsylvania’s online casino market will be expanding, though there’s no indication of how soon that will come.
The state’s Gaming Control Board approved an interactive gaming operator license Wednesday for WynnBET, which has a major national presence but does not operate currently in Pennsylvania. The license covers online slots and table games play but does not enable sports betting, which is possible only through a more limited licensing process before any expansion can occur.
Online casino operators that lack any direct connection to one of Pennsylvania’s brick-and-mortar casinos may enter the state through a partnership with a casino operator. A gaming board spokesman said WynnBET has an agreement with Harrah’s Philadelphia, which also has its own Caesars site, but no timetable has been disclosed for when WynnBET will launch. It would become the state’s 19th outlet for legal online slots and table games.
In a comment provided to Penn Bets, Wynn Interactive President Ian Williams said, “We thank the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for their confidence in awarding WynnBET an iGaming license and look forward to bringing our offerings to the state next year.”
Separately, the gaming board acted at its monthly meeting to reopen its iGaming licensing application process for what are known as “qualified gaming entities.” A limited number of such licenses are available to out-of-state operators that want to provide online slots, table games, or poker in Pennsylvania without entering into a partnership like the one between WynnBET and Harrah’s.
The only pending qualified gaming entity is Golden Nugget Online Gaming, which has not yet been formally licensed and has no start date. The board voted to accept new applications after being told by Executive Director Kevin O’Toole that another operator has recently expressed interest, although he did not identify the company.
Cordish wins limited right to fight Lubert project
The seven-member board also heard legal arguments Wednesday that foreshadowed an upcoming licensing hearing concerning a proposed mini-casino near State College in Centre County.
Philadelphia financier Ira Lubert two years ago bid $10 million for the right to develop the mini-casino, planned at Nittany Mall, but the gaming board’s acceptance of the bid is being challenged by the losing bidder, The Cordish Companies, which operates the two Live! casinos in Philadelphia and Westmoreland County.
Cordish contends the bid was improper because it claims Lubert has involved in his financing other entities — the Bally’s Corp. and individuals Robert Poole and Richard Sokolov — that were not permitted to be part of the bid process.
Cordish, which operates as Stadium Casino LLC in Pennsylvania, has filed suit in a pending Commonwealth Court case to try to have Lubert’s bid thrown out. Simultaneously, it is trying to have the gaming board reject Lubert’s license application.
It is possible, but not certain, that the board will act on the license at its next meeting, on Jan. 25. On Wednesday, the board granted Cordish/Stadium Casino status as an “intervenor” in the case, allowing it to present oral and written testimony whenever the hearing is held. However, it refused the company’s request for broader participation that would include legal discovery rights to confidential documents filed with the board by Lubert and his company, SC Gaming OpCo.
Lubert’s attorney referred to Cordish during arguments Wednesday as a “sour grapes competitor” seeking to interfere with the ongoing licensing investigation entrusted to the gaming board’s own staff, and the board’s legal counsel concurred that Cordish’s role should be limited.
BetMGM took unapproved bets on Holyfield fight
BetMGM and Hollywood Casino Morgantown, the licensed entity through which BetMGM provides sports betting in the state, were fined $7,500 by the regulator for taking unauthorized bets on a Sept. 11, 2021, boxing match.
The fight that had been declared off-limits for the wagers two days in advance by the gaming board’s staff was an exhibition in Florida between 58-year-old former boxing champion Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort. Belfort won by TKO in the first round after less than two minutes of lopsided competition.
A consent agreement stated that either BetMGM or the casino, owned by PENN Entertainment, could pay the fine. It noted that BetMGM took 76 unapproved wagers totaling $2,064.17.
A BetMGM representative told the board members Wednesday, “We apologize for acceptance of the unapproved wagers. Due to the uniqueness of the fight and measures in place, this mistake will be a one-time occurrence.”
Mount Airy decides to bar kids
The state board has an ongoing public awareness campaign surrounding children being left unattended in cars or elsewhere while their parents or guardians visit casinos. On Wednesday, it placed five more adults on its involuntary exclusion list for committing just such an offense.
The action came from two separate incidents occurring at Presque Isle Downs & Casino and one at Rivers Pittsburgh. In two of the cases, a pair of adults both went inside to gamble while leaving children behind. There was no report of any physical harm to the minors involved, but they were on their own for as long as 35 minutes.
While it did not come up at the meeting, one Pennsylvania casino, Mount Airy Casino Resort, has taken action that could reduce instances of either neglect of children or underage gambling at its property.
The Times-Tribune of Scranton reported this week that Mount Airy will no longer allow patrons under age 21 in its hotel, restaurants, or pool. Individuals younger than 21 were already to be denied access to its gaming floor, although improper exceptions have occurred and the casino was fined $160,000 in September for instances of underage gambling.
The newspaper’s article noted that Mohegan Pennsylvania has barred guests under 21 from its hotel as well as gaming floor since June 2020.
The Mount Airy age restriction does not apply to its golf course, where minors may still accompany their parents or other adults.