It is no longer a matter of if Pennsylvanians will get to play poker online. Now it’s just a question of when, and based on gaming regulators that day could be coming soon, as the Gaming Control Board expects to start processing internet gambling license applications in April.
Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole, who has served as the agency’s chief since 2009 and is responsible for the implementation of gaming legislation, said at a House budget hearing he hopes the PGCB will start the application phase next month.
It should be noted that the executive director isn’t guaranteeing licenses will be accepted in April, nor does it imply poker sites will pop up in Pennsylvania within a couple of months. But it ought to give Pennsylvania poker players reassurance that, at the very least, PGCB members are actively working towards getting online gambling operators licensed instead of just playing solitaire on their computers daily.
Who Can Get a License?
The law in Pennsylvania allows the state’s 13 land-based casinos, including the Sands Bethlehem, which was, to use for an online gaming license.
Each operator must submit an application to the PGCB and pay a licensing fee of $10 million to offer poker, slots, and table games online. Or, casinos interested in offering fewer or two forms of gambling can pick the a la carte option at $4 million a piece.
Since only land-based casinos that are currently operating in the state, major worldwide poker sites such as PokerStars and Partypoker will likely be.
The window for operators outside of Pennsylvania to apply for a permit will start 120 days after the application period for current licensees begins in April.
How Many Poker Sites Will Open?
With 13 land-based casinos each being eligible to offer one to three forms of betting, there are potentially 39 licenses to be handed out. But it’s unlikely each gaming firm, particularly the smaller casinos that generate less revenue than, say, Parx Casino in the Philadelphia area, will fork over the $10 million fee for a full license.
Online poker only generates a fraction of what slots and table games bring in. In New Jersey, as an example, the poker sites raked in just 8.8 percent ($1,950,696 of $21,962,339) of the total January internet gambling revenue.
This means that some Pennsylvania casinos may be hesitant to spend the full $10 million if they do not anticipate poker as being rewarding.
Poker players won’t have a better idea of what the landscape for online poker will look like in Pennsylvania until the permit application process progresses. At that point different partnerships will become more clear, and we can start hearing when fresh Pennsylvania-specific online gaming sites expect to launch.
O’Toole told the House budget hearing that we should anticipate the very first license waiver to be ready by the fall. After that, it’ll be up to the new online gaming licensees to determine when they intend to roll out their product.
But regardless when that happens and who is first, starting next month, the future of online poker in Pennsylvania will be underway.