With that focus and funding and alignment, I think it’s very possible you will start to see some movement in [iGaming] legalization efforts in [Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and New York], and perhaps others. For Rush Street Interactive (RSI), which acquired and onboarded the development team for Phil Galfond’s Run It Once Poker (RIO) platform in March, a rollout of real money US online poker is still in the cards — but the company remains tight-lipped on its strategy.
Poker was not explicitly mentioned in RSI’s Q3 2022 discussions, released earlier this month. However, company executives said it would focus on North American markets that offer both online sports betting and casino gaming — which would include online poker — on the grounds that the former drives traffic to the latter, which is much more profitable.
“We continue to see strong volumes in markets where we are live with both online casino and sports betting,” CEO Richard Schwartz said during the earnings call. “It remains a simple fact about our business: the online casino vertical is significantly larger and more profitable than sports betting in the markets where we are operating both.”
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Although online poker wasn’t explicitly mentioned, RSI teased one development. A slide from the Q3 2022 presentation referred to the company’s acquisition of the popular Poker Night in America series in August.
Specifically, RSI said it had “added a unique library of TV production quality poker content to engage an incremental player demographic to cross-sell to casino and sportsbook.” The slide included a screenshot of the series as it aired on the CBS Sports Network.
Focusing on jurisdictions with multiple verticals could be one step RSI wants to take before it launches a real money US online poker product. In August, CEO Richard Schwartz said RSI would “eventually” offer online poker to players.
BetRivers Poker Would Face Challenges Specific to Jurisdiction
RSI’s BetRivers brand is live in five North American jurisdictions with both online casino gaming and sports betting — Michigan, New Jersey, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The launch of BetRivers Poker would face unique challenges in each.
Online poker is legal and available in Michigan and New Jersey. Both states are signatories of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), a multi-state compact for online poker and some casino gaming. It should be noted, however, that the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) has yet to allow any operator to go live with multi-state poker.
Pennsylvania has online poker, but is not a member of MSIGA. BetRivers could still launch there to build its brand and compete with the likes of WSOP, PokerStars, and BetMGM before the state presumably joins the compact. However, waiting on the sidelines until it connects with other states may be the more prudent move.
It’s a bit of a different story in West Virginia, where online poker is legal, but no operators offer it. BetRivers could be the first — it has a partnership with Mountaineer Casino. But considering its small population, West Virginia would need to join MSIGA to make online poker profitable.
Ontario is already the largest poker market in North America in terms of concurrent cash game seats. BetRivers Poker could launch in the province, but it would face stiff competition — especially from WSOP Ontario, which despite a late launch, is dominating the vertical. It also has no near-term path toward joining the US online poker states to share liquidity.
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Four States Possible for Expansion into Online Casino (and Poker)
Schwartz said RSI was watching developments in four states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and New York — as jurisdictions that could expand iGaming to include online casinos. Although he did not say so specifically, each state could be another potential market to launch online poker.
“There’s been a lot of momentum growing for iGaming legalization,” Schwartz said. “That’s driven in part by the recognition from our competitors, and ourselves, as to just how valuable it is to complement sports betting with iGaming.”
The CEO added RSI has seen competitors of all sizes contribute money to lobby for iGaming legislation — although he didn’t mention California, a state where RSI didn’t contribute to an industry-backed initiative to allow sports betting.
“We remain focused on exploring ways to legalize igaming. I think what’s really important to note is that all of our peers are aligned around funding — not just supporting verbally, but really putting some money to work — to lobby for igaming legislation for the first time in the history of the US market.
“With that focus and funding and alignment, I think it’s very possible you will start to see some movement in legalization efforts in the states that I mentioned and perhaps others. We have an outsized benefit if iGaming is legalized in any of these markets because of our strength in casino.”
BetRivers is already live with online and retail sports betting in Illinois and Indiana and runs an online sportsbook in Iowa. If online casino gaming (or online poker) launches in any of those states, RSI could quickly deploy BetRivers.
In the interim, Schwartz said RSI was preparing to launch BetRivers sportsbooks in Maryland and Ohio in the coming months.