What Will US Online Poker Look Like When PA And MI Join Shared Player Pools

The future of PA online poker seems bright, but when will Pennsylvania get more operators and join the shared liquidity market?

Pennsylvania poker players continue to wait and watch for a second online poker site to launch. Since November 2019, PokerStars PA has been the lone online poker option in PA.

When will PokerStars’ Pennsylvania monopoly end? It’s a question PA poker players have been wondering about for some time.

Once other online poker sites finally emerge to compete with PokerStars in Pennsylvania, those same players will have other questions, too.

When will PA online poker players get to play against players in other US states with legal and regulated sites? And what will that new online poker landscape look like?

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BetMGM Poker, WSOP soon taking seats at PA online poker table

More than six months ago came whispers that one and perhaps two new online poker sites would soon launch in PA. Those whispers became slightly louder in the fall when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) began approving licenses that would pave the way for the new sites.

In late October, the PGCB approved BetMGM for licensure as iGaming operators. Entain, formerly GVC Holdings, owns the partypoker platform. Along with MGM, Entain jointly owns BetMGM (formerly ROAR Digital). BetMGM operates the partypoker US network that is presently up and running in New Jersey.

In December, BetMGM launched an online casino and an online sportsbook in Pennsylvania. Expectations are that a BetMGM Poker site could launch in Pennsylvania soon as well.

It was back in October the PGCB approved an interactive gaming manufacturer license for 888 Holdings, the online poker partner of Caesars who own the WSOP.

Soon after players in PA began receiving emails intimating WSOP.com PA was coming soon. However, a Caesars representative made clear that wouldn’t happen until 2021. A January announcement of the 2021 WSOP Online Circuit Series hinted that WSOP.com could be launching soon “in a newly regulated market,” with Pennsylvania seeming a likely candidate.

But still PA players wait.

What needs to happen for PA to join a multi-state agreement?

That WSOP Online Circuit Series takes advantage of WSOP’s ability to share player pools in multiple states. Players on both WSOP Nevada and WSOP New Jersey can play in WSOP-branded events, including online bracelet events.

In addition, the WSOP/888 network pools players from three states, NY, NJ, and Delaware. Currently no other U.S. online poker sites have been able to follow suit and join player pools.

PokerStars (for example), has sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and now Michigan (since late January). But in each case the sites are “ring-fenced” meaning players can only compete against others within the same state.

In order for Pennsylvania players to be able to play against those in other states, two things need to happen.

First, an online poker site must launch in PA that also operates a site in another state with which it could form a network. So far PokerStars is the only candidate with its NJ and MI sites.

Second, the PGCB will have to approve entering a multi-state internet gaming agreement with other states in order to permit sites in multiple states to combine player pools.

Favorable Wire Act ruling should lessen PA regulators’ concerns

Most observers believe Pennsylvania had been previously hesitant to pursue joining such an agreement thanks to a revised Department of Justice‘s Office of Legal Counsel opinion regarding the Wire Act.

In January 2019, the DOJ office issued an opinion dated a couple of months before stating that the Wire Act did not just apply to sports betting, but to all forms of gambling (including online) conducted across state lines. That position reversed an earlier DOJ opinion from 2011 that the Wire Act applied to sports betting only.

In response, the PGCB issued a letter to online gaming licensees in the state recommending strongly that they comply with the new opinion and be particularly diligent about disallowing any wagering to occur across state lines.

The PGCB’s stance didn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of joining a multi-state agreement for online poker. However, it was clear the new DOJ opinion had halted any momentum in that direction. The PGCB would not be pursuing the idea, at least not in the near term.

Meanwhile the New Hampshire Lottery filed a lawsuit against the DOJ objecting to the new opinion. In June 2020, NH received a favorable ruling, thereby vacating the new DOJ opinion. The DOJ appealed, and in January 2021 that appeal was denied by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The January ruling should be regarded as good news for Pennsylvania poker players. The PGCB has not indicated its plans going forward. However, the Wire Act and the DOJ should no longer present an obstacle should PA regulators choose to enter into a multi-state agreement.

Multiple sites…and multiple networks for PA?

Among the states with whom Pennsylvania could begin sharing player pools, New Jersey would be a likely first candidate. Michigan could come later, perhaps by the end of the year or early 2022.

Delaware, a much smaller state, would be less of a priority. Meanwhile West Virginia has also legalized online poker, although has yet to launch any sites.

Such combined player pools will obviously be a game-changer for US online poker generally and Pennsylvania poker in particular.

If and when PA does join a multi-state agreement, Pennsylvania may well have both BetMGM and WSOP.com sites up and running.

In other words, the near future could well see multiple online poker sites become available for PA players. Then a little farther down the road, PA players might even have multiple multi-state networks from which to choose as well.

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2015 WSOP Will Serve To Strengthen The Bond With WSOP.com

With the 2015 World Series of Poker just around the corner, a look at how this year will be better than ever for live / online poker tie-ins and satellites.

At the 2014 World Series of Poker, Caesars and the WSOP made a concerted effort to merge their brick and mortar and online offerings.

Among the crossover proposals the WSOP implemented were:

  • Players were encouraged to play online poker while playing in WSOP events.
  • The WSOP created a designated area for players to log on and play at WSOP.com.
  • WSOP.com in Nevada and New Jersey sent hundreds of players to the WSOP via official online satellites.

Judging by the information relayed during last Tuesday’s 2015 World Series of Poker conference call, there will be an even stronger push at the 2015 World Series of Poker to create synergy between the WSOP and WSOP.com.

Starting with the first-ever WSOP online poker bracelet.

The online poker bracelet

Event #64, a $1,000 buy-in No Limit Holdem tournament, will begin at WSOP.com’s online poker tables and play down to the final nine players.

Once the final table is decided these players will travel to the Rio to battle it out for the bracelet the old-fashioned way.

What else is in store for the 2015 WSOP

Mobile and wifi improvements

Last year, the WSOP encouraged players to play at WSOP.com while participating in WSOP tournaments at the Rio. But there was a major logistical issue that likely hindered players from taking advantage of this new, exciting opportunity.

During the 2014 WSOP, WSOP.com didn’t have a mobile offering, and players interested in double-dipping in live and online tournaments would have to use their much bulkier laptops.

This year players will be able to play on their phones and tablets.

Additionally, the WSOP has made wifi available in all areas of the Rio, as well as getting the Nevada Gaming Control Board to “white-list” the Rio so players can be seated at the same cash game table or tournament table even if they are playing from the same IP address – usually a no-no in Nevada.

Daily satellites

WSOP.com will run satellite tournaments to the following day’s WSOP events every night at 6PM. Signature event (Ladies and Seniors Championship and Millionaire Maker, for example) satellites will start at 4 PM.

Additionally, STT’s and Steps satellites to WSOP tournaments will be available around the clock.

A bigger scramble

One satellite tournament that was a rousing success in 2014 was the WSOP Main Event 25 seat Scramble. Last year the tournament attracted 1,339 entries, and the company expects even more entries this time around, with potentially more seats won.

This year the tournament will have a slightly reduced price-point (185+15) and will allow players to reenter.

The scramble will take place on Day 1a of the WSOP Main Event.

Satellites to the 25 seat satellite are already running at WSOP.com.

Streamlined deposit options

Caesars also announced they have made it easier than ever to deposit into your online poker account.

As always, players can use credit cards, eChecks (ACH), or cash at the cage. This last option has been streamlined by the WSOP.

According to Caesars’ reps, players are now capable of walking up to the cage with their ID and making a deposit to their already setup online poker account. In the past players would first have to initiate an online chat before depositing at the casino cage.

Additionally, Caesars expects the list of properties where the cash at the cage deposit option is available to grow from one to three, as they are awaiting approval for Harrah’s and Planet Hollywood to join Caesars.

The return of direct buy-in satellites

In 2014 Caesars sent about 200 players to the WSOP via direct satellites at WSOP.com – about 100 to the Main Event and a similar number to preliminary events.

That number should be much larger in 2015.

In addition to direct buy-in satellites at WSOP.com in Nevada and New Jersey, Caesars has teamed up with their iGaming partner, 888 Poker, who will be offering official direct buy-in satellites to the WSOP in regulated markets around the globe.

According to Caesars, they expect 888’s direct satellites to send around 100 players to the Main Event.

During the conference call, Caesars also announced they have entered into similar partnerships with PlayNow in Canada and Winamax in France.

Caesars Interactive VP of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky,  the WSOP expects over 200 players will win their way into the WSOP Main Event through these official satellites, and over 500 total WSOP seats (Main Event and preliminary events) to be awarded through official online satellites.

By comparison, during last week’s call, Caesars estimated the 56 land-based casinos they have partnered with will send about 300 players to the Main Event.

Tidbits

  • The Global Poker Index (GPI) will be sponsoring the 2015 WSOP Player of the Year award. the WSOP POY calculations had previously been handled by Bluff Magazine’s POY system. According to a press release by the WSOP, “… this new, multi-year agreement includes marketing initiatives for the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and WSOP Europe… to include exclusive editorial content on WSOP.com and content within the WSOP final table livestream.”
  • For the first time, live reporting of WSOP tournaments will be handled in-house and exclusively available at on WSOP.com.
  • The GPI wasn’t the only company to enter into a multiyear agreement with the WSOP. According to Caesars, DraftKings extended their sponsorship of a WSOP event (Event #55) into multiyear agreement.

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