When Can Live Poker Return to Pennsylvania? PA Casinos Submit Reopening Plans

PA poker players will soon have many more options as casinos submit plans for reopening live poker rooms and more online sites are on the way.

Nearly seven months have passed since the last hands of poker were dealt in Pennsylvania card rooms. But live poker games may be returning soon, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

Some PA casinos submit plans to reopen poker rooms

In mid-March all of the state’s casinos and their poker rooms were forced to close as part of the effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Casinos began to reopen in June to limited capacity. By mid-July, all 12 casinos were welcoming back guests.

But while the slots and other areas of the casinos were up and running, the poker rooms remained shut down.

Recommendations from both CDC and the PA Department of Health made it impractical to allow players to sit in close proximity to one another while handling and exchanging chips and cards. Thus did the PGCB withhold authorization to reopen poker rooms when issuing their COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols in mid-May.

Regarding poker rooms, the PGCB’s protocols included a provision to re-examine poker room operations as health officials’ guidelines evolved.

A spokesperson for the PGCB recently confirmed that at least some of the state’s casinos have submitted their plans for reopening their poker rooms.

Pandemic poker: Short-handed games, plexiglass, masks, temperature checks

Such reopening plans include outlining safety protocols the poker rooms will follow. What those plans specifically entail is unknown, although will likely involve limiting the number of players per table.

Also uncertain is the date when the first Pennsylvania poker rooms will reopen. It appears highly unlikely any will reopen immediately, especially while casinos continue to operate at limited capacity.

Just over 90% of the United States’ almost 1,000 casinos have now reopened after every single one closed in the spring. Most that have reopened are operating at limited capacity, and in many cases poker rooms have been kept closed as they are in PA.

Live poker rooms remain closed in neighboring New Jersey. However rooms in Nevada (see lead image), California, and several other states have opened back up.

Some poker rooms that have are employing plexiglass dividers at the tables. Most are dealing short-handed games, requiring masks and often temperature checks for all players.

PokerStars still only online option, other PA sites move closer to launching

With the brick-and-mortar rooms closed, PA poker players have at least had online poker as an option – albeit with only one choice available.

PokerStars PA remains the lone online poker room up and running in the Keystone State, as has been the case since it first launched in November 2019.

There the just completed Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker awarded just over $2 million in prize money, well clear of the $1.5M in guarantees.

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More online poker competition on the way in PA

Competition in the virtual poker space is coming, however.

Last week the PGCB approved an interactive gaming manufacturer license for 888 Holdings, partner of Caesars Interactive Entertainment. That brings WSOP.com closer to launching in Pennsylvania, although no date has been announced as yet.

When WSOP PA does go live, the next question will be whether it will be able to enter interstate compacts and share player pools with the other WSOP.com sites in New Jersey and Nevada, and with 888 poker in NJ and Delaware.

Also eagerly waiting on the virtual rail is partypoker.

GVC Holdings owns the partypoker platform and with MGM co-owns ROAR Digital who powers the partypoker US Network. There have been various indications over recent months that the PGCB will approve ROAR’s license to operate in PA. However ROAR’s application status is still pending.

Partypoker, WSOP Among Challengers to PokerStars’ Online Poker Monopoly in PA

Pennsylvania online poker players will be happy to know they will soon have multiple top-notch poker sites from which to choose.

Experienced poker players know that sometimes you have to be very patient when waiting for the right cards to come. Online poker players in Pennsylvania are going to have be patient a little longer to see when the next online poker room launches.

Since November 2019, PokerStars PA has been the lone online poker option for players in the Keystone State. The site has enjoyed its monopoly thus far, but the race to see which online poker room will be its first challenger continues in earnest.

Who might join PokerStars PA next? A couple of candidates stand out from the pack at present, although both are going to have to wait a bit before launching.

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partypoker and ROAR

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) had its most recent monthly meeting on Aug. 5. It was thought that meeting might produce news that partypoker had moved one step closer to launching an online poker room in PA.

But no such news came from the PGCB. That means another month (at least) before any new online poker sites come to PA.

GVC Holdings owns the partypoker platform. Along with MGM, GVC jointly owns ROAR Digital, operator of the partypoker NJ site.

During the July meeting of the PGCB, the board’s Chief Entertainment Counsel Cyrus Pitre had indicated ROAR might have its licensed approved in August.

But while Unibet and Evolution Gaming received permanent licenses at the meeting, ROAR — including partypoker — continues to wait.

WSOP and Harrah’s Philadelphia

With no live World Series of Poker this summer, the WSOP recently completed the first part of its WSOP Online bracelet series on WSOP.com.

Players from New Jersey and Nevada were able to compete for 31 bracelets and over $26 million prizes during July. But alas, Pennsylvanians had to wait on the virtual rail.

In late May, WSOP officials told USPoker they were working toward obtaining regulatory approval to launch in Pennsylvania, and Doug Harbach of the PGCB confirmed that Caesars’ online poker application was pending.

But there was no talk of WSOP.com PA or Harrah’s at the regulators’ August meeting.

Others potentially seeking seats at PA online poker table

Five other Pennsylvania casinos are licensed to operate online poker rooms in PA, pending regulators’ approval. They are:

  • Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
  • Parx Casino and Racing
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia (formerly SugarHouse)
  • Valley Forge Casino Resort
  • Wind Creek Bethlehem (formerly Sands Casino Resort)

Pennsylvania online poker players will surely welcome any new options with open arms.

Brick-and-mortar poker rooms in PA closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus. Since then, the state’s 12 casinos have all reopened with limited capacity. However, their poker rooms have remained shuttered per safety guidelines of health officials and the PGCB.

PokerStars PA has been a popular option during the interim, including most recently during the just-completed Bounty Builder series in which players won nearly $2 million.

But a second online poker room — and perhaps a third and fourth — will bring needed variety and some healthy competition to the nascent PA online poker market.