Online gambling is legal and live in Pennsylvania, and that includes poker too.
The first online and mobile sportsbooks started taking bets in May. The first PA online casinos then launched in mid-July, with the state’s first online poker site running in early November of 2019.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) gave licensed online poker operators the green light to go live on July 15.
The first online poker site began live testing on Nov. 4. Soon afterward, PokerStars PA began full-time operations in tandem with Mount Airy’s online casino.
There are seven casinos with online poker licenses in the state. They are:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Parx Casino
- Rivers Casino Philadelphia just renamed from SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
- Wind Creek Bethlehem
PA online poker gears up for launches
The prospect of mediocre returns brought about by stagnant numbers in the New Jersey online poker market could explain why no operator was in a rush. Launching potentially more lucrative online casinos and sportsbooks seemed to be a bigger priority.
The inevitable finally rolled out for testing on Nov. 4, with full approval by authorities on Nov. 6 through PokerStars via Mount Airy Casino: www.pokerstarsmtairycasino.com.
The PA site attracted more players than PokerStars drew on its established site in NJ. Players were in a variety of cash games and tournaments.
The primary game was Hold’em, followed by Omaha.
Sunday tournaments at PokerStars in PA are offering reasonable buy-ins and larger guarantees than their counterpart site in New Jersey.
Online poker in Pennsylvania began as a fenced-in market; however, at least a couple of sites should eventually join forces to create a PA-only network.
Right now, only WSOP.com and 888 Poker sites do this.
Pennsylvania will eventually join the compact known as the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association compact, which gives sites in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey the right to share player pools with the Keystone State, boosting the pool.
Introductory promotions include several bonuses and freeroll offers, meant to lock down market share right out of the gate.
To retain players, each site will also likely offer their customers competitive rakeback or a loyalty program. PokerStars uses a randomized chest-base program with real money prizes.
Is online poker legal in Pennsylvania?
Yes, when Gov. Tom Wolf signed bill H 271 into law on Oct. 30, 2017, online gambling became legal in Pennsylvania. This bill includes poker, casino table games, slots, and sports betting.
That made Pennsylvania the fourth state to legalize online poker.
Seven of the 13 casino license holders in Pennsylvania applied for licenses to operate online poker sites.
The PGCB put together regulations to govern Pennsylvania online poker sites that include the following rules:
- Players must be 21 years or older.
- Sites must verify the identification of all potential players.
- Players must be located inside state lines to play.
- Sites must verify all players’ location using geolocation software.
- Operators must pay a 16% tax on gross online poker revenue.
It first appeared as though online poker would launch in early 2019.
However, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released an opinion in January that the Wire Act‘s jurisdiction extended to include all forms of online gambling that cross state lines, including poker.
This opinion set the Pennsylvania online poker launch timeline back as operators and regulators sorted out its impact. A federal judge in New Hampshire has since issued a ruling throwing out the opinion. The DOJ is currently appealing the decision.
In April, PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole announced poker sites would have the green light to launch on July 15. None did at first, but the PGCB said it was a matter of time. That happened in November with Mount Airy Casino and with PokerStars as their partner.
How online poker works in PA
Legal online poker in Pennsylvania works in much the same way it does in other regulated poker markets across the US.
That means players must register for an account with an online poker site in Pennsylvania before they can start playing in various cash games and tournaments.
Also, it means players must be located inside PA state lines to play.
If you would like to register for an account at a PA-only poker site, it should be a simple process.
You will have to share a minimal amount of personal information, which is not likely to extend beyond the last four digits of your Social Security number.
You don’t need to be a PA resident to play, but again, you have to be within the state lines. Pennsylvania online poker sites will use geolocation software to verify this.
The sites will also verify your identification through the registration process.
Then, it’s just a matter of depositing on the site and taking advantage of any free bonus cash offers. Finally, you can sit in at a real money cash game table or register for a real-money tournament.
If that’s not something you’re able to do immediately, you should be able to join and play for free on the site in the meantime.
PA poker and compacts
Online poker in PA is launching as a fenced-in market. That means only players inside PA can play, and also that sites in the state are not sharing player pools with others on the outside.
There’s no need for residency to play, but PA poker sites will use geolocation software to verify that you are within the state; there’s no getting around that.
Considering the population, online poker in PA is expected to quickly become the largest intrastate online poker market in the US.
The nature of the fenced-in market means PA poker sites won’t be sharing player pools with those in any other states, but that should happen eventually.
The state ultimately anticipated joining such agreements when it built provisions into its online poker legislation allowing for shared liquidity.
This legislation gives the PGCB the authority to enter into these kinds of agreements with other states. Plus, it allows licensed operators to offer games to out-of-state players, and local players to participate in out-of-state networks.
PA could join shared liquidity compact
Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware launched the first licensed and regulated online poker sites in the US in November 2013.
At the time, all three states launched as fenced-in markets. Nevada and Delaware then signed an interstate compact known as the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association (MSIGA), allowing sites in each to start sharing player pools in 2015. New Jersey signed on to that interstate compact in October 2017.
WSOP.com and 888 Poker are the only operators with sites in all three states and were the first to apply to launch tri-state shared liquidity games.
The first-ever real money poker games featuring players in all three states launched on April 30, 2018. Since then, WSOP.com has been able to host multi-state online WSOP bracelet events in New Jersey and Nevada.
The hope is PA can make it a four-state market within the next year. The US shared liquidity online poker market could potentially double in size if PA comes aboard.
Below is a look at the PA casinos planning to launch online poker. It also includes which online poker operators they’re planning to partner with, when each license was approved, and when they expect to launch:
|Casino||Online Poker Partner||PGCB Approval Date||Projected Launch Date|
|Harrah's Philadelphia||888||Aug. 15||2019|
|Hollywood Casino||IGT||Sept. 12||2019|
|Mount Airy Casino||The Stars Group/ 888||Aug. 15||Nov. 6, 2019|
|Parx Casino||GAN||Aug. 25||2019|
|Wind Creek Bethlehem||None||Oct. 3||Unknown|
|SugarHouse Casino||Rush Street Interactive||Sept. 12||2019|
|Valley Forge Casino||IGT/ GAN/ GVC||Sept. 12||2019|
Real money poker vs. free
The 2017 law that made online gambling legal in Pennsylvania made it the fourth state in the nation to legalize real money online poker.
There’s never been a law in the US against playing online poker for play-money stakes. Currently, there are numerous sites and mobile apps available that offer this service.
That said, the PA casinos planning to launch real money poker sites in PA are all expected to provide free games as well.
Free poker games can be a great way to learn the game without risking anything. Be warned, however, that few people take free games seriously, so gameplay often differs significantly from the real thing.
The play-money games can be wild, so it’s probably best to learn at the micro-stake level instead. Particularly, if you’re planning to take the game at all seriously.
Some play-money games do have social media links. Others offer a player loyalty or points system where you can ultimately earn rewards. Again, be warned that it could take a long time to build nothing into something on these play-money sites.
In the end, you should probably play these poker games solely for fun.
Poker apps vs. desktop
You should expect the real money poker sites to launch with mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.
These aren’t likely to be the same as the desktop clients, but they’ll give you the chance to play from wherever you are in PA with an internet connection.
Real money poker apps are very often smaller versions of their respective desktop clients. They may not provide all the account functionality of the desktop version. The number of tables one can play on is often limited, too, as well as the choice of games and tournaments available.
You are probably better off registering for an account with a PA online poker site via a desktop computer. That way, you can reserve any serious account functions and online poker sessions for the desktop. You can use the mobile app for short sessions while you’re on the go.
Keep in mind that if one of those places you do go is a PA casino, you can’t bring your mobile poker app with you. You don’t have to leave your mobile device at home, however. PA law dictates you won’t be able to login to an online casino or online poker app while on the casino property.
Most of the action in the online poker market revolves around No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. That said, some sites offer other poker variants.
Find yourself on the right site at the right time and there may be your favorite poker variant running, including RAZZ, HORSE, or 2-7 Triple Draw.
The biggest cash game in real money poker is far and away No-Limit Hold’em. You’ll find stakes ranging from $0.01/$0.02 to $25/$50 with six-max and nine-handed tables.
That said, most of the games are micro- and low-stakes action. Games beyond $1/$2 do not run regularly. Neither does the more pedestrian Limit Hold’em version of the game, where the stakes go as high as $100/$200, but the player pool is rather small.
You’ll find Pot-Limit Omaha at online poker sites, just not as many tables running as No-Limit Hold ’em. Stakes range from $0.01/$0.02 to $25/$50. However, there isn’t much action in the micros. Instead, it’s $0.50/$1 and $0.25/$0.50 tables running most days.
Other Omaha variants, like Hi-Lo, may be available on the sites, but again, the player pools are small to non-existent.
You might find poker clients that claim to offer stud games, even RAZZ. What you won’t find are too many players to play. Stakes will generally range from $0.50/$1 to $40/$80, but it’s $0/$0 with a nonexistent player pool most of the time.
HORSE, 2-7 Triple Draw, other variants
Poker is more than hold ’em and Omaha, but PA poker online isn’t really. Some of the more notable poker brands claim to offer games, including HORSE and 2-7 Triple Draw, but it usually applies to specialized tournaments.
Cash games for variants like this do not run regularly because the demand isn’t there. But never say never. After all, most sites’ clients support these formats, and if their popularity increases, you’ll perhaps find action.
Most online poker clients support some version of fast-fold games like PokerStars’ Zoom tables, though not at first. Once you fold your hand, you are instantly transported to a different table to start another one. This format requires a large player pool, so it will not always be running on the PA sites that eventually will have it.
All online poker clients offer a daily schedule of No-Limit Hold’em multi-table tournaments (MTT) with buy-ins ranging from $1 to $50. Some even come with prize pool guarantees.
There’s plenty of micro- and low-stakes action daily, but the bigger buy-in MTTs are usually reserved for Sundays. The larger online poker operators run Sunday majors with buy-ins from $50 to $500 and guaranteed prize pools of up to $50,000.
Sit & Go tournaments
Poker sites offer No-Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, and Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Sit & Go tournaments. Most have nine-handed, six-max, and heads-up formats. Buy-ins range from as low as $0.25 to $500. These games go off when the players are there, which is usually limited to peak prime-time hours.
Lottery Sit & Go tournaments
Lottery Sit & Go tournaments, like PokerStars’ Spin N’ Go tournaments, are three-handed Sit & Go tournaments with randomized prize pools, ranging anywhere from two buy-ins to 1,000 buy-ins.
The odds are slim that you’ll be playing for the max, but Lottery Sit & Go tourneys, from $1 to $25, should run regularly. This format has become more popular than standard Sit & Go tournaments themselves.
Bonus offers, reward programs
The best poker sites offer a variety of no-deposit and deposit-match bonuses to try to attract new players. Also, they offer various rewards programs that are intended to help retain players.
Here’s a look at some of the larger operators, and the types of bonus offers and rewards programs they are offering players.
PokerStars PA is giving new players a $30 free package they can claim by using the bonus code FREE30 on first deposits of $20 or more.
It includes $20 in cash, $10 within 36 hours and the rest after seven days. It also includes five Spin N’ Go tickets valued at $10.
Meanwhile, another welcome package offers a 100% match of up to $600 on first deposits. Players can claim this one using the PokerStars PA bonus code STARS600. This bonus clears at a rate of $10 for every 100 VIP Player Points earned, which works out to 55% rakeback.
In addition, PokerStars runs a rewards program for players, which offers chests of valuable and varying rewards. In the end, it adds up to be about 55% rakeback as well.
New players who sign up for WSOP.com in PA with the WSOP bonus code 10FREE should be entitled to a free $10 cash bonus.
The WSOP.com rewards program offers players up to 32% rakeback.
888 Poker PA
The site, 888 Poker, in PA, should provide up to 80% rakeback as a part of its rewards program.
New 888 Poker players are entitled to a $20 no-deposit bonus, a 50% bonus of up to $500 on their first deposit bonus, and a 50% bonus of up to $1,000 on their second deposit using the promo code WELCOME888.
The PartyPoker site offers new players a $25 no-deposit bonus. Plus, there’s a 100% match bonus of up to $1,000 on a first deposit.
The PartyPoker loyalty program offers up to 40% cashback.
How to get money on and off the sites
The goal of every PA poker site will be to make the process of moving your funds as easy as possible.
That means each site will offer a variety of easy-to-use deposit and withdrawal methods and are always on the lookout to add new ones. It usually will mean that whatever way you used to make a deposit, you can also use it to make a withdrawal. However, other options are available, too.
Here’s a list of all the poker deposit and withdrawal methods available:
Visa and Mastercard: You can use the most well-known credit card brands in the world at most PA online poker sites. However, some issuing banks may not authorize online gambling transactions, meaning another deposit method will need to be employed.
The following list of issuing banks decline online gambling transactions regularly:
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- Chase/JP Morgan
- Wells Fargo
- TD Bank
- Santander Bank
- Huntington Bank
Types of deposit options available
- Play+: This prepaid credit card acts like both a credit card and an e-wallet account, and several Pennsylvania online poker sites accept it. You can fund the Play+ prepaid card using a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover card, or even a checking account.
- Prepaid Cards: Prepaid cards are a safe and convenient alternative method of depositing on PA online poker sites. You can load money onto a prepaid card and then use it to deposit on a poker site. Several credit card companies offer prepaid credit cards, and some online poker sites have a branded-prepaid card.
- Cash at the casino cage: Legal, regulated online poker sites in Pennsylvania are all affiliated with a PA casino. Most will accept cash deposits at the cashier cages inside these casinos.
- PayPal: PayPal is the largest third-party payment processor in the world. PayPal allows you to funnel money to the sites from several sources, including your bank account.
- ACH e-checks: ACH allows you to write an electronic check to the online poker site of your choice. In other words, ACH helps you move funds between your bank account and that of an online poker site.
- PayNearMe: The convenience store 7-Eleven, CVS Pharmacies, and financial services provider PayNearMe have created a financial services management app, which allows users to make bill payments. You can make payments to PA online poker sites with cash at these locations.
- Online banking: If you can make bill payments online, the chances are that you can deposit at an online poker site from your bank account as well.
PA poker and card rooms
Pennsylvania plays host to one of the most extensive live poker scenes in the US. Live poker became legal in 2010.
Here’s a look at the 10 poker rooms in the Keystone State that have launched since then, their locations, and what they have to offer poker players.
Parx poker room
The poker room at Parx has become PA’s premier poker destination.
In 2018, the casino underwent a $50 million expansion, which included a 48-table, state-of-the-art poker room on the property.
The room features low- to mid-stakes No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha games, plus higher-stakes action most nights.
The $15/$30 limit games also run with higher mixed games featuring variants you won’t find elsewhere, including games like Omaha 8-Or-Better, Big O, and SuperStud.
Parx is also well-known for its seasonal Big Stax tournament series and nightly tournaments.
Wind Creek Bethlehem poker room
Wind Creek inherited the second-highest-grossing poker room in the state when it took over Sands Bethlehem. There are $1/$2 and $2/$5 No-Limit Hold’em runs every day inside the 30-table card room. Higher-stakes action runs on most weekends when there are Omaha, Limit Hold’em, and stud games available.
There are nightly tournaments. However, we have yet to see what Wind Creek will do to replace the popular seasonal Sands DeepStack Extravaganza series.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia poker room
The Poker Night in America poker room at Rivers Casino Philadelphia, the former SugarHouse Casino, is currently the only poker room in Philadelphia. However, Live! Philadelphia Casino is building a room that should open in the city before the end of next year.
Rivers has 28 tables featuring low-stakes, No-Limit Hold’em, a daily tournament schedule and regular Rush Challenge events, which feature a $250 buy-in tournament with a $100,000 guarantee.
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh poker room
The Rivers Casino Pittsburgh 30-table poker room sits across a parking lot from Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. There’s 24/7 No-Limit Hold’em action with stakes running from $1/$2 to $10/$20. Pot-Limit Omaha and Limit Hold’em games also run occasionally.
The tournament schedule features two daily events six days a week, with the room running regular promotions.
Harrah’s Philadelphia poker room
Harrah’s Philadelphia is actually on the Delaware River in Chester. The poker room features 28 tables spreading No-Limit Hold’em and some limit games. For the most part, it’s $1/$2 or $1/$3 No-Limit Hold ’em.
The tournament schedule features two daily events and satellites into the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.
Penn National Casino poker room
The 17-table poker room at Hollywood Casino at Penn National is pretty much a $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em room. Although higher-stakes games, Pot-Limit Omaha, and Limit Hold’em sometimes run on the weekends.
There are tournaments six days a week and a Bad Beat Jackpot promotion.
Mohegan Sun Pocono poker room
The poker room at Mohegan Sun Pocono runs daily tournaments often featuring bounty structures. Promotions include a Bad Beat Jackpot for cash games and tourneys.
The atmosphere is relaxed with the action of the low-limit variety. There are sometimes 20 or so $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, and Limit Hold’em games on weekends.
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino poker room
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino is outside of Pittsburgh. The poker room includes 14 tables, all with a view of the live horse racing action.
It hosts No-Limit Hold’em, Limit Hold’em, and Pot-Limit Omaha cash games. Plus, tournaments run twice daily, six days a week, and special events on Sundays.
The room is an annual stop on the Heartland Poker Tour.
Mount Airy Casino Resort poker room
The poker room at Mount Airy Casino Resort features only nine tables that usually offer low-limit, No-Limit Hold’em. There’s a High Hand promotion.
Presque Isle Downs poker room
Presque Isle Downs, in Erie, features the smallest poker room in the state with only seven tables.
However, it offers a tournament schedule that runs six days a week with guaranteed prize pools.