High Hand Alert: Pennsylvania Poker Options Expanding Both Live and Online

Live and online poker options continue expanding for Pennsylvania players, along with some juicy welcome back promos at poker rooms around PA.

After a long year of live poker rooms being closed and online poker options limited, Pennsylvania poker players have a lot to be encouraged about heading into the summer months.

There are now multiple online poker rooms to try, and many of the state’s live rooms are welcoming players back as well.

Here’s a quick overview of what is currently happening poker-wise in the Keystone State. Let’s start with online poker, where options for Pennsylvania players have recently increased and might do so again sooner than later.

Online poker options in Pennsylvania

Right now there are three PA online poker sites:

  • PokerStars PA
  • BetMGM Poker PA
  • Borgata Poker PA

For nearly a year-and-a-half, PokerStars PA enjoyed a monopoly as the only legal, real money online poker site in the Keystone State. First launching in Nov. 2019, the site has built a sizable player pool as demonstrated by the large turnouts during recent tournament series.

In Feb.-March the Bounty Builder Series on PokerStars PA awarded over $2 million with more than 35,000 total entries. The Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker in April-May then topped those figures with more than $2.6 million won and over 47,000 total entries.

In late April, PokerStars PA finally faced a competitor — two of them, in fact. BetMGM Poker PA and Borgata Poker PA both launched sites, albeit using the same software and sharing a player pool over the partypoker US network. Like PokerStars PA, the new sites are “ring-fenced” meaning only Pennsylvania players can play on them.

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The BetMGM and Borgata sites are off to slow starts in Pennsylvania, having only just begun attracting players.

In early May an initial 10-event PartyPoker Network Online Series was announced for later in the month featuring $320,000 in total guarantees. However the series was subsequently cancelled and will likely run at a later date, perhaps after the sites attract more sign-ups and the number of active players increases.

WSOP PA poised to make the PA online poker game four-handed

A fourth online room waiting in the wings is the long-promised World Series of Poker site, WSOP PA.

Back in Sept. 2020, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved an interactive gaming manufacturer license for WSOP-owner Caesars‘ online poker partner 888 Holdings, and it appeared WSOP PA may launch soon thereafter. But a month later a Caesars representative indicated no launch would happen until 2021 at the earliest. Despite various hints during the first part of the new year, nothing new developed.

In late April during an investors call, 888 Holdings CEO Itai Pazner stated the company planned to launch WSOP PA “in the first of half of this year, which basically means in the next couple of months.”

There have been other indications the company would like WSOP PA to be up and running well ahead of the in-person World Series of Poker in Las Vegas scheduled for Sept.-Nov. 2021. That said, if WSOP PA does launch before then, it is unclear whether WSOP online bracelet events will be hosted on the site.

In any case, like the other three PA online poker sites, WSOP PA will also be in-state only with no sharing of player pools at WSOP sites in other states, at least not at first. PA regulators will have to approve a multi-state agreement with other states first before such could occur.

Live poker options in Pennsylvania

Meanwhile, PA poker players currently have a number of live poker options at the state’s casinos. Following the closure of rooms due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, many have now reopened for business.

Most rooms have begun removing plexi-glass dividers and eased other protocols while continuing to ensure player safety. As of the start of June, seven live poker rooms are open in PA. These include rooms at the following casinos:

  • Live! Casino Philadelphia
  • Mohegan Sun Pocono
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • Parx Casino
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia
  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
  • The Meadows

Three other poker rooms remain closed, the ones at Hollywood Casino, Presque Isle Downs, and Wind Creek Casino. Neither Hollywood Casino nor Presque Isle Downs have indicated if and when their rooms will reopen. Wind Creek Casino plans to reopen its room by this fall.

Additionally, the Harrah’s Philadelphia poker room permanently closed last November.

Promotions, tournaments scheduled to bring players back to poker rooms

All of the poker rooms are running promotions and other events designed to bring PA players back to live poker.

For example, the newest casino and poker room, Live! Casino Philadelphia, just saw a lucky group of players split a $600,000-plus Bad Beat Jackpot over Memorial Day weekend.

Live! Casino Philadelphia features a 29-table room with several promotions. There are $40/$80 HOE (Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Seven-card Stud 8 or Better) games on Thursdays and Sundays and a $5/$10 Omaha 8 Full Kill on Fridays. The room plans to begin hosting tournaments soon as well.

Looking at what other rooms are up to, the one at Rivers Casino Philadelphia is hosting a $240 buy-in Welcome Back Tournament with a $20,000 guarantee on June 27. They are also awarding $500 High Hand Jackpots every hour from noon to 10 p.m. throughout June, amounting to over $200,000 in awards.

The Mohegan Sun Pocono room has daily tournaments and $300 high hand jackpots every half-hour from 2 to 10 p.m. Rivers Casino Pittsburgh will award over $80,000 in high hand jackpots during June. And Parx Casino‘s Bad Beat Progressive Jackpot is just about to exceed $400,000.

All of which is to say, there is plenty of shuffling up and dealing happening around the state for players eager to get back to the tables.

Image via Dreamstime.

Which Pennsylvania Live Poker Rooms Are Currently Open? (Updated Nov. 19)

Just as five poker rooms in Pennsylvania have gotten back to dealing cards, spikes in coronavirus cases are beginning to force some to close once again.

It was just over a month ago that the first Pennsylvania poker rooms began to reopen after all of them were forced to close in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alas, a renewed surge in cases has made it necessary for PA poker rooms to deal with the situation once again. In some cases, rooms have opted not to deal at all — not to deal hands, that is.

When Pennsylvania’s casinos began reopening over the summer, the poker rooms were all forced to remain shut per COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

In early October, the PGCB began accepting reopening plans from some of the rooms. A couple of weeks later, the first few poker rooms began reopening. But with coronavirus-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, those plans are being revisited and revised once more.

Here is a quick rundown of the current status of all 10 of the state’s poker rooms — or perhaps we should say all nine rooms, as one of them appears to have closed for good.

Reopened and still operating – Meadows, Mohegan Sun, Mt. Airy, Rivers Pittsburgh

Four of the five poker rooms that reopened continue to welcome players, at least for now.

The rooms at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Mount Airy Casino both reopened on Oct. 16. A week later, on Oct. 23, the poker room at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino reopened. Then a week ago, on Nov. 11, the room at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh reopened as well.

All four currently remain open and are operating as follows:

  • Mohegan Sun Pocono (eight tables) – open daily, 12 p.m. to 3 a.m.
  • Mount Airy (12 tables) – open 24 hours
  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh (30 tables) – open Mon.-Thurs., 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 12 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Sun., 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
  • The Meadows (14 tables) – open daily, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Mt. Airy is the land-based partner of the only online poker site in the state, PokerStars PA, which will continue dealing virtual hands through pandemic closures.

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Reopened, but now temporarily closed – Rivers Philadelphia

Rivers Casino Philadelphia reopened its 28-table poker room on Oct. 23. In fact, just a few days ago, some lucky players enjoyed a windfall when the Bad Beat Jackpot hit.

However, on Monday, the city of Philadelphia issued new restrictions that will force the casino to close on Friday, Nov. 20. The earliest the casino will be able to reopen will be Jan. 1, 2021.

The new guidelines cover a host of different businesses, including restaurants, bars, gyms and fitness centers, and theaters. All Philadelphia high schools and colleges must move to online-only instruction for the rest of the year as well.

Still temporarily closed – Hollywood, Parx, Presque Isle Downs, Wind Creek

The following poker rooms have been shuttered since mid-March and remain closed at present:

  • Hollywood Casino Penn National (17 tables) – closed
  • Parx Casino (80 tables) – closed
  • Presque Isle Downs (seven tables) – closed
  • Wind Creek Casino (26 tables) – closed

It is unknown if or when Hollywood or Presque Isle plans to reopen. Wind Creek appears to be in no rush either, given that slot machines presently occupy the floor of its poker room.

By contrast, Parx does appear to be considering reopening its poker room, the largest in the state. Parx recently sent out an announcement of plans to reopen the room “before the end of December.” But COVID-19 numbers could deter those plans.

Permanently closed – Harrah’s Philadelphia poker room

Meanwhile, in late August, Harrah’s Philadelphia indicated it had closed its large 27-table World Series of Poker-branded poker room, with no plans to reopen.

While there was no formal announcement, employees of the poker room shared information about the closure on social media and elsewhere.

Pennsylvania’s two other casinos, Lady Luck Nemacolin and Valley Forge, are both currently open, though neither has poker rooms.

You can follow our live updates page at PlayPennsylvania for the latest on PA casino (and poker room) closures and reopening plans as they are made available.

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

PA poker players will soon have many more options, as casinos are submitting 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 its COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols in mid-May.

Regarding poker rooms, the PGCB’s protocols included a provision to reexamine 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 and 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 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, which 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.