The big news last week, and it was very big news, was that both chambers of the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a bill that vastly expands gambling in the Keystone State and legalizes online poker, casino games and several other forms of online gambling. The bill, HB 271, was signed today by Governor Tom Wolf.
Following the passage of this law, there will be a period of several months in which the details emerge of what the newly legalized online gambling industry will look like in Pennsylvania. Moreover, given the recent news that NJ online gambling sites can share liquidity with Nevada and Delaware, many expect Pennsylvania to join in that same interstate compact.
Assuming Pennsylvania joins the broader US pool, one of many topics of interest is which NJ poker sites and online casinos will be operating in Pennsylvania next year?
Poker Will Look Similar, Only With More Liquidity
Let’s start with online poker, because that’s an area where players and industry folks alike are deeply affected. Online poker, as a product, simply doesn’t work that well when the player pool is small.
Assuming Pennsylvania poker sites link up with Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, the new interstate pool will service a combined population of more than 25 million people. It’s still nothing compared to the international player pools and is quite a bit smaller than even ring-fenced countries like Spain and France, but it’s very much a step in the right direction.
NJ online poker has largely leveled out in terms of liquidity, and it’s clear at this point that the three biggest networks – 888/WSOP, Borgata/Party/playMGM and PokerStars – aren’t leaving anytime soon. Pala Poker also entered the mix in 2017 as a standalone, but is still operating in beta.
In Pennsylvania, you can expect the same three big networks in play as well as Pala, which will likely come out of beta before launching in a second state. PokerStars was held up for more than two years before they were approved to service New Jersey, but there’s little to make us believe they’d face the same kind of delays in PA.
Chances are, all four networks will be available on or around day 1 in the new market, and they may even be operating without further competition. PokerStars, GVC (PartyPoker) and 888 are far and away the biggest international poker providers that could qualify to operate in a licensed US market. Other possible competitors, such as Playtech and Unibet, have yet to show much interest in US online poker.
It’s important to state that some of the brands may well be different in Pennsylvania, even if the networks are the same. I wouldn’t expect a “Borgata Poker” brand in PA, for example. There could very well be a Parx branded poker operator, and other brands associated with local land-based operators. But based on what we’ve seen in New Jersey, I’d expect most or all of these Pennsylvania-specific brands to operate as part of a broader network for poker.
More Online Casino Brands, Including Local Ones
Online casinos are another matter for several reasons, but primarily two.
First, casinos mostly don’t depend on liquidity the way poker sites do. There may be interstate pooling for things like live dealer tables and progressive jackpots, but the games basically function the same regardless of how many people are online.
Secondly, land-based brand presence likely plays a huge role in where consumers ultimately end up online. This was evidenced in New Jersey as Borgata, consistently rated Atlantic City’s top B&M casino, jumped out to a huge lead when the market launched and is still one of the top online casino brands in the state.
Of the New Jersey online casinos currently in operation, I expect the following to be operating in Pennsylvania:
- At least one of Caesars/Harrah’s
- 888 Casino
- Pala Casino
- Mohegan Sun
If there’s one outlier on this list, it’s probably Golden Nugget, simply due to being the top NJ online gambling revenue breadwinner. They might be the one NJ land-based brand to venture over, but I doubt there will be too many.
Some will likely estimate a greater number of brands will come over from New Jersey, especially given the experience acquired over the last few years, but I’m really less sure, especially since so much of the operation is outsourced to software and content providers.
Much of this information should be coming to light within a few months, and we’ll be reporting regularly here at NJ Online Gambling. Stay tuned!
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