In trying to predict the performance of the online gaming market in Pennsylvania, many analysts looked to the neighboring state of New Jersey as a model. And while the Garden State faced challenges with the accuracy of geolocation services and credit card approvals when it first launched in 2013, the industry has since been able to resolve those issues.
As a result, Pennsylvania was expected by many to be able to build on the experience of New Jersey, yet one month after the launch of online slots and casino games not everything has gone as smoothly as some had hoped.
Online Poker Takes a Back Seat to Online Casino Games and Sports Betting
Much to the dismay of poker players, the Pennsylvania igaming market offers online slots, table games and sports betting, but online poker has yet to debut in the Keystone State. And while its online gaming brethren have proven to generate more revenue, online poker in other markets around the world serves as platform to cross sell customers into other gaming verticals.
SugarHouse Casino became the state’s first online sports betting platform on May 28, and three online casino operators began offering real money slots and casino games during the week of July 15. And though PokerStars is widely expected to be among the first operators in the market to offer online poker, so far neither the company nor the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) have provided any indication of when the first virtual poker room will open.
“We’re working with our partners and the authorities to finalize plans and bring our leading brands to PA’s players as soon as possible,” a representative of The Stars Groups (TSG) told pokerfuse just prior to the July 15 soft launch date. “There’s a lot to look forward to, so rest assured we’ll be in touch with more details as soon as they’re available,” the TSG rep continued.
Days later, when casino games went live with no sign of poker, PGCB Communications Director Doug Harbach told pokerfuse, “we cannot predict a timeline” for when poker would go live in the state. “Poker will be rolled out when operators are prepared to do so,” Harbach continued.
One Pennsylvania casino has given some indication of when it expects to offer online poker. A representative of Hollywood Casino responded to an inquiry from a potential patron saying it is “hoping to have poker integrated” into its online gaming offering “by the end of 2019.”
Poker is considered by the PGCB to be “more complicated” than slots and table games and is likely one reason that there is still no online poker in Pennsylvania. In addition, operators may see more opportunity in establishing an online sports betting presence in time for the start of the NFL season.
But the lack of online poker hasn’t been all that has stopped the Pennsylvania online gaming industry from reaching its full potential so far.
Online Casinos Struggle to Provide Online Gaming Access to Apple Users
With more than 45% of all mobile phone users in the US on an iPhone, providing access to these potential customers is vital to the success of the Pennsylvania online gaming market, yet casinos in the state have struggled to serve that segment of its population.
The reason for the difficulties stems from a revision in June to Apple Guideline 4.7 governing the admission of real money gambling (RMG) apps to the App Store. The modified rule mandates that all RMG apps be primarily coded native iOS code. A large number of RMG gaming apps are coded in HTML5, meaning online gaming providers have had to undertake some serious development projects.
With the revised guideline taking effect just weeks before online casinos were allowed to offer online slots and table games, online gaming providers have been scrambling.
In addition to being the first Pennsylvania casino to offer online sports betting, SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia was also the first casino to provide access to its online games to customers using iPhones and iPads.
SugarHouse developed a workaround that allowed Apple users to utilize a web browser to wager on sporting events and later casino games. With the help of an app called “GeoGuard Location Validator” by the geolocation company GeoComply, SugarHouse was able to confirm that its Apple customers were within the state of Pennsylvania and meet the PGCB requirements.
Parx Casino and FanDuel later became the first to offer iOS sports betting apps, and Hollywood Casino has since become the first casino Pennsylvania to offer an app featuring real money slots and video poker. Still, the offering available to Apple users falls well short of those accessible to Android and Desktop users.
Until the online gaming providers in Pennsylvania are able to offer a full suite of games to such a large segment of their potential customer base, and until online poker is available in the state, the Pennsylvania online gaming market will likely continue to underperform expectations.