Pennsylvania Lottery has launched their official PA iLottery website offering instant win games that are slot-style online games. This is currently the only online gaming site that has launched since the PA gaming expansion bill was passed last year.
Potential PA online casinos
According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), there are 10 stand-alone and racetrack casinos and two smaller resort casinos operating inside the state. Plus, a 13th casino is coming, with a license having already been granted to a group building a casino and hotel in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area, home of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams.
These PA casino operations have been invited to be the first to apply for online gambling operator licenses in the state beginning April 16, 2018. The properties had until July 16 to turn in applications for a $10 million comprehensive interactive gaming license. With this license, casinos can offer online poker, online slots, and online table games.
There were nine casinos which applied:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Parx Casino
- Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Resort Casino
- Stadium Casino (under development)
The four properties that did not apply are not shut out of online gaming options though. They have the option to apply for separate licenses in each of the three online categories. Each of the three licenses costs $4 million.
Should there be leftover licenses after that, the state retains the right to open up the application process to entities outside of Pennsylvania.
Potential PA online poker sites
Today, 10 of 12 Pennsylvania casinos have poker rooms and may want to open up an online poker room in conjunction with them. Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin and Valley Forge Casino Resort are the only casinos in the state that do not have poker rooms.
There are more than 220 live poker tables operating across the state with the 10 rooms pulling in an average of $4 million in revenue every month. Plans for Stadium Casino in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area include opening a poker room when the facility opens its doors in 2020.
The nine casinos that applied for the first wave of online gaming certificates will all have the ability to offer online poker, which means PA players should have quite a few options.
If any of the 13 PA online poker operators licenses are not claimed by existing PA casino operations, they will be made available to entities outside the PA casino industry. One outside entity, the world’s largest online poker site, PokerStars, has already expressed an interest in joining the PA online poker market from launch.
More about PA’s legal online gambling industry
Online poker, online casino table games, and slots became legal in Pennsylvania as a part of a comprehensive gambling expansion package passed by state legislators in October 2017.
The PGCB is providing regulatory oversight for the local online gambling industry. The board spent the first half of 2018 designing online gambling regulations and fine-tuning the application and licensing process. Existing PA casino license holder started to apply for online poker, online table games, and online slots licenses on April 16, 2018. Casinos can get all three licenses at once for a $10 million licensing fee. The cost is $4 million each individually.
If any of the available online gambling licenses remain unclaimed at the end of the application process, entities from outside the existing PA casino industry will be invited to apply for them.
There is no limit on the number of skins, or alternatively branded online gambling operations, that can operate under each licensee. However, temporary industry regulations designed by the board stipulate branding for the skins must clearly identify the licensee. Plus, players can only create one account per licensee, not per skin.
PA online gaming partnerships
While it remained unclear part way through 2018 which PA casino will apply for which licenses, there are indications from several casino operations that they have big plans to enter the PA online gambling market.
One clear indication is the partnerships several PA casinos have already struck with online gambling operators and software providers. Some have even launched play-money social casino sites with these partners in advance of the legal and regulated PA real-money online gambling market launch. Here’s a look at who has partnered with who in Pennsylvania so far:
SugarHouse Casino and Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
Rush Street Gaming owns and operates SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. The online gaming arm of the company, Rush Street Interactive, has successfully launched its own proprietary online gambling platform in New Jersey.
PlaySugarHouse.com operates in New Jersey under the Golden Nugget’s online gambling license. SugarHouse and Rivers both jumped into the PA online gambling market using Rush Street Interactive’s own proprietary online gambling software. Additionally, the casino company recently inked a deal with sports betting software company Kambi. With these strategic partnership, Rush Street should be able to quickly roll out mobile sports betting when the time comes.
Mount Airy Casino Resort
The family of casino founder and Scranton-area businessman Louis DeNaples owns and operates Mount Airy Casino Resort.
In 2014, the casino resort struck a partnership with online gambling giant 888 Holdings. There are now links to the 888 Casino New Jersey online gambling site on the Mount Airy Casino Resort website. Plus, Mount Airy operates its own free-to-play social casino site, Play Mount Airy, using 888 software.
Real-money gaming is just a click away for Mount Airy Casino Resort, and thanks to this partnership with 888, it should be ready to go once an online gambling license is procured from the PGCB.
Parx Casino and Stadium Casino
Parx is the state’s top-grossing casino. It is owned by Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc., which is also partners with the Cordish Co. on the under-development Stadium Casino in Philadelphia.
Before the state passed online gambling legislation, Parx did everything in its power to protect its industry-leading position against cannibalism from online gambling. However, Parx signed an exclusive multi-year agreement with turnkey internet gaming solutions provider GAN in November 2014. The property was the first casino to apply for online gaming licenses.
In a March 2015 press release, it was revealed that GAN will provide Parx with an internet gaming system for all forms of real money internet gaming, including poker, in the event the state enacts legislation to regulate real money internet gaming.
That day has now come and it appears Parx and GAN will apply for various online gambling licenses in the state and begin offering online poker, online table games, and online slots when the market opens. In the meantime, the pair have already launched the Parx Online casino free-to-play social casino website.
Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment’s deal with GAN suggests Stadium Casino in Philadelphia could launch online gambling operations with the same partner as well.
Valley Forge Casino Resort
Rumors have persisted since 2015 that Valley Forge Convention Center Partners, owners of the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, had entered into some type of online gaming agreement with online gaming giant bwin.party, which operates the partypoker and partycasino brands and is now owned by the even bigger GVC Holdings.
Most thought that agreement was still in place and the relationship would help guide Valley Forge Casino Resort into PA’s new online gambling market at launch. However, things may have changed.
Las Vegas-based gaming and hospitality company Boyd Gaming Corporation bought Valley Forge Casino Resort for $280.5 million in December 2017. Boyd Gaming isn’t in the online gambling business right now. However, it once was. Boyd had a 50 percent ownership in Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey before selling out to partner MGM for $900 million in 2016. Therefore, Boyd was in the online gambling business when Borgata launched online poker and casinos sites back in 2013.
The thing is, Borgata launched those online gambling sites with bwin.party, or what is now GVC Holdings, software. Obviously, the companies have a history of working together in the online gambling sector. So, it could be a case of the more things change for Valley Forge Casino Resort on the ownership side, the more they stay the same for its online gambling interests.
Harrah’s Philadelphia is a Caesars Entertainment property. Caesars Entertainment and its subsidiary Caesars Interactive Entertainment run a variety of online casino and online poker sites in legal and regulated markets in the US. Caesars Interactive Entertainment uses 888 Poker software for its World Series of Poker-branded online poker sites, WSOP.com, in Nevada and New Jersey. Plus, its New Jersey online casino sites use the NYX online gaming software platform.
There’s no reason to think Harrah’s Philadelphia won’t do the same. Particularly when it comes to online poker, where a WSOP.com Pennsylvania site would soon join the Nevada–Delaware-New Jersey multi-state poker agreement and give Caesars a huge leg up in the growing US online poker market.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Meadows Racetrack and Casino
After buying out rival casino company Pinnacle, local gaming giant Penn National Gaming now has two casinos properties in PA. This includes Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Meadows Racetrack and Casino.
Rumors persist that Penn National Gaming wants in the PA online gambling market and will use Scientific Games/NYX software at launch. Partly because its existing online and mobile free-to-play social casino site HollywoodCasino.com is designed and run by Scientific Games.
While Hollywood applied for an online casino license, The Meadows did not. However, it is entirely possible the casino will simply promote the Penn National product on property.
Mohegan Sun Pocono
Massive Connecticut casino Mohegan Sun and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority own and operate Mohegan Sun Pocono. The organization also runs day-to-day operations at Resorts Atlantic City in New Jersey. Three online gambling operations run under Resorts’ online gambling license, including the Resorts- and Mohegan Sun-branded online casinos and PokerStars NJ online poker and casino site.
The Resorts and Mohegan Sun sites operate using Scientific Games/NYX software.
What is interesting is that, even though Mohegan Sun is operational online in New Jersey, it was one of the four casinos that did not apply for a $10 million license. However, this could just be a case of Mohegan staying out of online poker and saving a couple of million by buying a la carte table games and slots licenses.
Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin
Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin is owned by Reno, Nevada-based casino company Eldorado Resorts.
Eldorado Resorts isn’t in the online gaming business just yet, but they’re moving into it. The company already operates more than two dozen casino properties around the US, and in April 2018, it agreed to lease operations of seven Tropicana Entertainment casinos, including Tropicana Atlantic City.
When the transaction finally closes sometime in 2018, Eldorado Resorts will suddenly find itself with a New Jersey internet gambling license and a pair of online casino sites run by Tropicana’s gaming partner Gamesys. In addition to a Tropicana-branded online casino site, a very similar Virgin-branded online casino site is also run by Gamesys under Tropicana’s license.
If Eldorado wants in online gambling in PA, there’s no denying a certain synergy would be found launching a Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin site with Gamesys as a partner.
Presque Isle Downs & Casino
In March 2018, Eldorado Resorts agreed to sell Presque Isle Downs & Casino to horse racing and gaming giant Churchill Downs for $178.9 million.
Churchill Downs immediately expressed an interest in joining PA’s online gambling market at launch.
Churchill Downs owns and operates the online horse race wagering site TwinSpires. In 2014, there were indications the organization was developing its own online gambling software platform. Plus, it used to own a social gaming platform that included free-play casino games. However, it sold Big Fish Games at the end of 2017.
Not long after the Supreme Court decision overturning the federal ban on sports betting, Churchill Downs announced it was partnering with Golden Nugget Casino in New Jersey to offer sports betting in the Garden State.
Additionally, the company signed a deal with SBTech. The global online casino software platform has been used widely in Europe, but this will be SBTech’s entree into the US regulated market.
These signs seemed to indicate that Churchill was diving into online gaming headfirst. However, it sat out the initial licensing process, which raises the question of whether or not Churchill Downs plans on focusing exclusively on sports betting.
Sands Bethlehem owner Las Vegas Sands has always been vehemently against the legalization and regulation of online gambling. However, it sold to the casino to an Alabama Indian tribe for $1.3 billion in March 2018.
Now it’s up to Wind Creek Hospitality, an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, whether it wants to take Sands Bethlehem online or not. Word is Wind Creek will keep the Sands management team in charge, which would suggest a future without online gambling.
The Tribe does own a few other casinos, but doesn’t appear to have any current online gambling operations. Nor does it have partners in place which would suggest they are interested in going online right now.
Nonetheless, the tribe had Sands purchase a $10 million license, so they will be moving into the online space full speed ahead.
PA online gambling site safety
PGCB will regulate all online gaming sites in the state. This is the same branch of the state government that regulates all land-based PA casinos.
Through the first half of 2018, PGCB was designing regulations to govern online gambling operations in the state and refining the application and licensing process.
Other important points regarding PA online gambling security
The regulations designed by PGCB are expected to include several security measures specifically designed to:
- Ensure player balances are held in a separate account from operating funds
- Force sites to implement a rigorous player verification process
- Prevents minors from gaining access
- Deal with problem gamblers
- Force sites to implement geolocation software making sure all players are within the state
- All deposits and withdrawals are processed securely
Online gambling in other states
Pennsylvania passed online gambling legislation in October 2018. Before them, just three states, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, had passed similar legislation. All three states saw legal and regulated online gambling markets open in in 2013.
New Jersey and Delaware both give players the chance to play various online casino games and online poker. It’s online poker only in Nevada.
New Jersey online gambling has been a great success. Online gambling sites in the Garden State set revenue records in 2016 pulling in $196.6 million. It helped the state’s fledgling casino industry turn around a decade of declines. Last year, New Jersey online gambling posted even bigger numbers, setting a new record for revenue at $245.6 million.
The industry also set new monthly revenue records in January ($21.96 million) and February ($21.99 million) this year. Up to the end of February 2108, New Jersey online gambling had generated more than $766 million in revenue since its 2013 launch. It’s now a favorite to hit the $1-billion mark by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
Nevada and Delaware
Nevada hosts just two online poker operators, WSOP.com and Real Gaming. Real Gaming is struggling to stay afloat and the while the market for WSOP.com grows when the World Series of Poker comes to Las Vegas in June and July, the rest of the year it remains rather small.
In Delaware, online gambling run by the Delaware State Lottery in partnership with 888 Holdings. The three licensed racinos in the state are Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway and Casino, all offer online casino games and poker. However, the online gambling market and the state are tiny.
That said, online poker in Delaware and Nevada got a boost when New Jersey signing on to an interstate agreement in October 2017 to share player pools between all three states. The first tri-state shared liquidity games launched May 1, 2018 and all three states immediately became part of the biggest regulated poker network in the US.
Pennsylvania’s new online gambling law
Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online gambling when lawmakers passed a comprehensive gambling expansion package in October 2017. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law by immediately.
The new laws also regulate daily fantasy sports. They authorize the sale of online lottery tickets. Plus, they provide for the regulation of sports betting now that the Supreme Court ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional.
Essentially, Pennsylvania law now allows for the state’s 13 existing casino licensees to acquire licenses to operate three forms of online gambling:
- Table games
The price tag for a license to operate all three is $10 million. The state’s 13 existing casino licensees can also procure licenses for any one or more of the three categories individually. They’ll cost $4 million each. Additionally, these ventures are each heavily taxed. Online slots are taxed at a rate of 54 percent. Table games and poker are at a much less steep rate of 16 percent.
Online casino games versus online poker
In New Jersey, the only online gambling market of a comparable size to what PA’s expects to be, online gambling has generated some big revenue numbers. However, online poker has only helped create about 10 percent of them.
Online slots are also generating about 70 percent of online casino revenues, meaning just 30 percent are coming from table games. Like most live casinos, online casinos in NJ offer more slots than anything else, which could be a factor.
Based on where the money is coming from in New Jersey, one should expect online gambling operations in Pennsylvania to follow suit. Therefore, they will be more focused on slots than anything else. Even if the tax rates on online slots are significantly higher.
Ongoing challenges facing PA online casino operators
It’s not easy to run an online gambling operation. PA online casino operators will face a number of ongoing challenges as they launch. In other states that have legalized and regulated online gambling these challenges and issues have included:
- Geolocation software
- Underage gambling
- Fraud and duplicate accounts
- Credit cards deposit denials
- Word-of-mouth marketing and new player attraction
- Keeping offshore operators at bay
PA will need to implement tight regulations in order for online gambling to succeed. They’ll need to impose a minimum age requirement of 21 and force sites to enforce it. Sites must also ensure players are physically located in the state when playing. Geolocation software can prove tricky in this regard and needs to be continually tested and improved.
A tight security system is paramount. Plus, it must be one that works for the benefit of the casinos and players.
The sites have to verify age and identity. PIN numbers and other security measures must be required.
Penalties must be created for violators and they must be enforced rigorously.
It might go without saying, but account funding shouldn’t be a hassle. In fact, if impatient gamblers run into issues making deposits and withdrawals they’ll give up before long. If the problems persist, the list of those gamblers will grow exponentially.
Payment processing problems still occur in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, particularly when it comes to Credit Card transactions. Credit card companies and banks have appeared to be slow in accepting that legal online gambling is here. Regardless, PA needs to make an effort to change that and lower refusal rates.
Getting the word out
Online gambling sites need players. However, a lot of people in New Jersey are still unaware they can gamble online. If PA wants the kind of success they have in New Jersey, the industry will need to market itself. They’ve got to get the word out to more potential players. However, that means marketing and advertising is a must. Additionally, increased cross-promotions with land-based casinos can help.