Pennsylvania Battle Over Online-Gambling Skin Limitation Builds

Updated: March 18th, 2018 by Dev Ops

The rollout of Pennsylvania’s legalized-gambling regime, set to include several forms of gaming including online poker, is still at a minimum several months away. Yet there’s plenty of work to be done before the first live sites can even be approved for testing, including how many sites will be allowed to exist. A battle of sorts has now erupted over how many skins or sites each licensed casino will be allowed to bring online. Just one? Or several?

The battle lines are clear. The largest of all Pennsylvania casinos by revenue, the Sands Bethlehem casino owned and operated by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation (and just recently sold), had been adamantly against online gambling in general and was not expected to apply for an online site. Its new ownership,¬†Wind Creek Hospitality, may be more receptive to online gambling. The two next largest Keystone State casino, Parx Casino and Penn National, have championed the “one skin per license” limitation in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, several of Pennsylvania’s smaller land-based casinos would like to be able to open up multiple skins under a single gaming license. This would allow them, possibly, to achieve greater brand equity in the state’s new online sphere. Also tossing its support into the multiple-skin group, for obvious reasons, is online platform provider 888 Holdings.

888 recently wrote a letter to Pennsylvania’s gaming regulators explaining and promoting its stance, but it’s a battle we’ve seen elsewhere before. Now that there’s a pie to be divvied up, everyone at the table is fighting over who gets the largest slices.

The divide between large and small couldn’t be more clear. Pennsylvania’s big three casinos by revenue — Sands Bethlehem, Parx and Penn National — account for about half of the state’s total gambling action. The state’s other nine licensed casinos make up the other half. With Sands Bethlehem out of the online picture, Parx and Penn National will have much more brand recognition than many of the other potential online competitors, even if each online site will have a natural region within the state where it should do well.

That brand recognition should translate into more online customers and business, especially as the markets grow and gamblers look for second and third online options. The last thing Parx and Penn National want is for there to be 20 or 30 or more available skins out there for Pennsylvanians to consider.

The two casinos, in public statements and arguments made to the state, claim that the law legalizing online gambling in Pennsylvania dictates one license per casino, and therefore, allowing multiple skins is simply a potential loophole, a workaround that would allow their casino competitors more online exposure than the law intended.

But in more recent developments, legislators responsible for crafting the legalization bill said that limiting the state’s casinos to one online site each was most definitely not their intent. Not only would that unnecessarily limit marketing opportunities, but it would make the licensing fee itself ($10 million each) prohibitively expensive for some of the state’s smaller casinos.

It’s one of the last battles to be waged regarding the upcoming debut of Pennsylvania’s sites. The smart money says multiple skins per casino will be allowed, but it’s not yet quite writ in stone.

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