As Pennsylvania casinos await authorization to reopen, they have found out that they will need to do so without live poker.
According to the Covid-19 casino reopening protocols issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), which outline the minimum requirements for casinos in the state to reopen, the mechanics of live poker make it too risky of an activity to be allowed.
“Poker rooms are not authorized to operate due to players handling cards and chips,” the PGCB states in the reopening protocols issued last week. The PGCB also indicates that it will reexamine the prohibition on live poker in Pennsylvania once the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) revise their guidelines.
When Will Pennsylvania Casinos Reopen?
Currently there is no firm timeline for when Pennsylvania casinos will be able to reopen.
“As conditions throughout the Commonwealth improve and the reopening of casinos is authorized, the PGCB desires to assure that re-openings occur in a manner which promote the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight,” said Executive Director Kevin O’Toole.
Under the three-phase reopening plan for Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, casinos will have to wait until the Green Phase to reopen.
The Red Phase (the most restrictive) allows only for Life Sustaining Businesses to open while the Yellow Phase eases some of the restrictions and the Green Phase eases most of the restrictions.
Phases within the state vary on a per county basis. Currently 18 counties are in the Green Phase, but none of the state’s 12 casinos are located within those counties. 10 counties still remain in the Red Phase, but the state expects that all counties will be classified as Yellow or Green by June 5.
Pennsylvania Online Poker and iGaming Fill the Void
Fortunately for casino operators, Pennsylvania authorized online gaming in 2017 with the first online casinos going live in July 2019. The revenue generated by the online casinos has proved to be a lifeline of sorts for those casinos that opted to participate in igaming.
Those casinos that do not offer online gaming saw revenues dry up after land-based casinos were ordered to close in March. Conversely, those casinos with igaming combined to generate nearly $38 million in April alone.
Only one of the 12 casinos in Pennsylvania has an online poker room. Mount Airy Casino Resort partnered with The Stars Group (now Flutter Entertainment) to make PokerStars PA the first (and so far the only) online poker room in Pennsylvania.
Since going live in November 2019, PokerStars PA has generated nearly $17 million in revenue in conjunction with Mount Airy.
WSOP PA Set to be the Second Pennsylvania Online Poker Room
Online poker will soon expand within the state of Pennsylvania with the launch of WSOP.com, but the online poker arm of the World Series of Poker is not the only company that needs approval from the PGCB before a second online poker room launches in the state.
888, the online poker platform provider for WSOP.com, also needs clearance from gaming regulators before WSOP PA can go live.
PGCB Communications Director Doug Harbach told pokerfuse late last month that “888 is currently in background with our investigative unit.”
The company has already been vetted by gaming regulators in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, so it is expected that there will not be any disqualifying information uncovered in the investigative phase of the application process.
However, Itai Pazner, CEO & Director at 888, told investors during a conference call to announce 888’s full-year earnings for 2019 that the company has plans to roll out “a very big product overhaul coming out this summer, which is called Poker 8.”
While there has been no indication of whether or not Poker 8 will be part of the initial rollout of WSOP PA, testing of the new poker platform could delay of the launch in The Keystone State.