Mid-July Launch Announced for Pennsylvania Regulated Online Poker

Updated: April 23rd, 2019 by Haley Hintze

Pennsylvania gaming regulators have confirmed that the Keystone State will become the fourth US state to offer real-money online poker, beginning on or about July 15, 2019. Between seven and ten online rooms are expected to officially go live on that date, following a brief two- or three-day soft launch designed to catch any bugs that might appear as real-money action commences.

The July 15 official launch date had been bandied about for a couple of weeks, though it received official confirmation this week from Kevin O’Toole, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. O’Toole, speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the PGCB, ended more than a year and a half of launch-date uncertainty following Pennsylvania’s approval of online gambling back in 2017. O’Toole and the PGCB also published a formal notice of the upcoming launch date, including a status report on the licensees and third-party service providers moving through the state’s approval process.

With a launch date now confirmed, Pennsylvania’s neighboring state of West Virginia remains the current favorite to be the fifth US state to go live with real-money, state-regulated online poker. The Mountaineer State’s planned online poker sites are expected to go live in early 2020.

Pennsylvania’s long road from approval to live online gambling still won’t be complete after the July 15 rollout, which also includes other casino-style games. Sports betting, both live and online, was also approved in the state, yet O’Toole and the PGCB have yet to confirm a timetable for that market’s debut.

Nontheless, getting the online poker and casino games running is all part of the slowly-developing plan. “Staff has reviewed the estimated time that it would take for us and the industry to complete all necessary steps, and it is our view that 90 days would be adequate,” O’Toole said on Wednesday. “Accordingly, I have advised the ten iGaming certificate holders and three iGaming operators that a coordinated go-live period for interactive gaming will commence on July 15, 2019.”

It’s likely that seven or eight Pennsylvania online-poker platforms will be ready to launch, either by the July 15 rollout date or shortly after. According to OPR’s Eric Ramsey, the likely early-to-market platforms should include the following:

  • Mount Airy, using a PokerStars-branded site;
  • Harrah’s (Caesars) license #1, a WSOP-branded entity;
  • Harrah’s (Caesars) license #2, but using 888’s software;
  • Valley Forge, using PartyPoker’s platform;
  • And, as many as four more operators — Hollywood, Parx, Sands, SugarHouse — whose plans regarding online poker in the state remain under development.

Two out-of-state entities, Golden Nugget and MGM, also applied for and received licenses that were left over, becoming available after a couple of the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos opted not to venture online. Golden Nugget and MGM could become the ninth and tenth platforms to offer online poker in Pennsylvania, though at least in the Nugget’s case, it’s at best a qualified maybe: The Golden Nugget Atlantic City has emerged as one of New Jersey’s online-gambling leaders, but it has risen to the top in that state without offering online poker there.

Uncertainty over the fate of the reversal opinion of the Wire Act and its impact on multi-state compacts may also dampen the early rollouts in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is by far the most populous state to have approved online poker to date, and the state’s sites would benefit even more should New Hampshire succeed in its legal challenge to the DOJ’s latest opinion on that matter.

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