The online gaming market in the state of Pennsylvania is scheduled to go live during the week of July 15, according to an April 16 letter from the Pennsylvania…
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The online gaming market in the state of Pennsylvania is scheduled to go live during the week of July 15, according to an April 16 letter from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to Interactive Gaming Certificate Holders and Gaming Operators.

The launch—which will come almost two years after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed online gaming into law—will be coordinated, meaning that all licensed online gaming operators which have successfully completed testing of their platform will go-live at the same time.

A soft launch period will last “2 or 3 days,” according to the PGCB. In neighboring New Jersey, the market opened with a similar soft launch period during which access to online gaming was limited to specific hours for a number of days to test the functionality of certain services linked to the customer experience including payment processing, geolocation services, and responsible gambling measures.

The current state of testing for online poker is still murky with the PGCB indicating only that “[s]ome I-Gaming platforms have been submitted to the Board’s gaming laboratory.” The PGCB does go on to state that three online gaming manufacturers have submitted gaming content for testing and others are expected to be submitted in the near future.

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In the three months before the identified launch period, industry stakeholders will have the opportunity to submit all required documentation and complete all testing. Those certificate holders that are unable to have their platforms and content approved in the testing lab prior to the go-live date will be able to launch as soon as the required steps are complete.

“Online sports wagering will go-live as soon as a sports wagering certificate holder and sports wagering Operator has completed all steps necessary to comply with Chapter 13C of the Gaming Act and Board regulations governing Sports wagering,” according to a footnote in the letter from the PGCB. A report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Gary Rotstein cites PGCB spokesperson Doug Harbach as saying that the first online sports betting platform could go live in May. Land-based sports betting in the state has been available since November last year.

Online Poker in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania will become the fourth state to offer legal regulated online poker, following Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. West Virginia, which legalized online poker earlier this year, is expected to become the fifth state to host regulated online poker in 2020.

With a population of nearly 13 million, Pennsylvania will immediately become the largest online poker market in the US, doubling the size of all other states with legal online poker combined.

All of the major online poker platforms that are currently in operation in other US states are expected to be available in Pennsylvania, including PokerStars, WSOP.com, partypoker and 888.

However, operators will not be able to allow players in Pennsylvania to play at the same ring game tables or in the same tournaments as their customers in other states. Combining player pools across state lines (also known as sharing liquidity) was expected to be allowed at some point after the opening of the market with Pennsylvania joining the other states offering online poker by signing on to the MultiState Internet Gaming Agreement, however, a recent change in opinion of The Wire Act of 1961 by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has put the future practice of sharing liquidity between states in doubt.

In January, the DOJ announced that it believes the prior interpretation of The Wire Act that limited restrictions on cross-border gambling to sports betting is incorrect. The current administration is of the opinion that the law should be applied more broadly to include most forms of gambling over the internet.

Currently, only one online poker network is operating in multiple states. The All American Poker Network (AAPN) which hosts WSOP.com, 888poker, and the online poker platform for the three racino skins in Delaware allows players in three states to play at the same tables, but unless the DOJ opinion is once again reversed, that may soon end.

The DOJ has set a deadline of June 14, 2019 for operators to become compliant with the new opinion, but the new opinion is currently being challenged in court.