The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved the Interactive Gaming Operator License application for BetMGM (doing business as Roar Digital) on Wednesday, bringing the Partypoker US Network one step closer to becoming a reality in the Keystone State.
Roar Digital, a joint venture between MGM and partypoker parent company GVC, operates the online gaming operations of MGM and GVC in the US, including the Partypoker US Network in New Jersey which features online poker rooms under multiple brands including partypoker NJ, BetMGM NJ and Borgata Poker.
Though approved, a soft launch for partypoker PA has not been scheduled with the PGCB, according to exclusive comments provided to pokerfuse by Doug Harbach, Communications Director for the PGCB.
In addition to indicating that BetMGM has not registered any plans with the PGCB to launch online poker in Pennsylvania, Harbach also could not provide a timeframe for the launch of the second online poker room in Pennsylvania.
PokerStars PA is currently the only online poker provider in the state, having enjoyed its first mover status since November 2019.
However, at the previous PGCB meeting on September 30, the board approved online poker software provider 888, clearing the way for 888poker PA and WSOP PA through the company’s partnership with the World Series of Poker. But again, no plans to launch were registered with the PGCB.
At the time, Harbach told pokerfuse of 888, “[w]e have no timeframe that has been provided to us for a launch of the poker app.”
Why Aren’t Online Poker Operators Pushing to Launch in Pennsylvania?
With the authorization of Roar digital, the PGCB has vetted and approved three online poker operators, yet only one, PokerStars, has decided to take its product to market. As the worldwide leader in online poker, with operations in nearly every regulated market around the globe, it is not surprising that PokerStars chose to push forward and launch online poker in Pennsylvania.
And for its efforts, PokerStars PA will have generated more than $35 million in revenue by the time it celebrates its one-year anniversary early next month.
And though revenue does not equal profit, there still appears to be sufficient demand within the market to justify other online poker operators taking the plunge. After all, both 888 and partypoker currently operate in the neighboring state of New Jersey which has 3.5 million less people than Pennsylvania and has supported multiple online poker networks since it launched in November 2013.
The main difference between the markets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is that the latter is ring-fenced, meaning online poker rooms cannot allow their customers in other states to play with their customers in Pennsylvania.
Combining player pools (also called shared liquidity) is essential for online poker to thrive as it builds bigger prize pools for tournaments, allows operators to spread a wider variety of games and shortens the wait time for games to start.
To be fair, New Jersey only approved shared liquidity in 2018, but it also laid the groundwork for other state regulators to follow its lead in a tried and tested manner.
But Pennsylvania opted to not allow cross-border liquidity sharing at a time when the Department of Justice under the Trump administration attempted to reinterpret the Wire Act of 1961 as a means of prohibiting some forms of online gaming that cross state lines.
But the online gaming industry pushed back against the DOJ in the courts, and though the lower courts have sided with the online gaming industry, the case currently resides with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit with a decision expected to be handed down later this year.
An election victory for Joe Biden in November could also spell good news for online poker operators in the US, as the position the Trump DOJ is attempting to overturn is one that was established under the Obama/Biden administration and it is believed that Biden would thwart efforts to continue to appeal the Wire Act case.
Along with a favorable decision from the courts and a potential change in the White House, the final two months of 2020 could also bring the launch of online poker in Michigan.
Regulators in the Wolverine State are striving to launch igaming in the state before the end of the year, and if the path to shared liquidity is clear, that may be enough for partypoker and 888 to move forward with online poker in Pennsylvania as it is anticipated that the PGCB would then be open to shared liquidity.