Poker players, despite the slow pace of the game, are not known to be a patient bunch. They had no choice in Pennsylvania, though, as despite online poker being legalized a full two years ago, it seemed like no sites were ever going to get up and running in state. But finally…FINALLY…PokerStars became the first online poker room to launch in Pennsylvania yesterday.
Soft launch: like a real launch, but more cushiony
Monday and Tuesday mark what is called a “soft launch” for PokerStars. It is a short public testing period during which customers can play a limited slate of games. On Monday, PokerStars Pennsylvania was up from 2:00pm ET to 10:00pm ET. Today, games opened at 2:00pm ET and will be available until midnight.
Assuming everything goes off without a hitch – games work fine, payments are processed cleanly, etc. – PokerStars will be fully live on Wednesday.
As mentioned, the offerings these first two days are limited. The cash game variety seems to be quite expansive; in addition to No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha, there are games like Razz, Triple Draw, and Stud. As I am looking at the lobby right now, though, the only cash game tables with players are No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha, with one full six-handed table of Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo going. There is one random player at Fixed-Limit Razz and Fixed-Limit Stud Hi-Lo, but since he is alone, there are obviously no cards being dealt.
Tournaments are where the limitations mostly exist. There are only about 14 or so multi-table tournaments on today’s schedule, with buy-ins ranging from $3 to $50. As I type this, there is one currently running, a $5 No-Limit Hold’em turbo tournament with 212 entries and a $964 prize pool.
Every Sit-and-Go is either a six-handed turbo or heads-up hyper speed and either No-Limit Hold’em or Pot-Limit Omaha. Buy-ins range from $1 to $500.
There are no Spin & Go tournaments or Zoom Poker games yet, as state regulators still need to give them their stamp of approval.
Ringfenced, but hopefully not forever
As is the case with the other three states – Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada – Pennsylvania online poker is restricted to players who are physically located within state lines. One does not have to be a Pennsylvania resident to play on the site – you can play if you are visiting – as long as a player is situated within the borders of the state. The only players on the tables will be people in Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future. It is expected that the state will enter into a compact with the other three states to provide interstate online poker, but it is not known when that will happen.
PokerStars was able to access the Pennsylvania market thanks to its partnership with the Mount Airy Casino Resort. State regulations require each online poker room to be co-branded (or solely branded) with the casino licensee. As such, the lobby displays both the PokerStars logo and the Mount Airy logo. Everything, though, looks like a PokerStars site and it is called PokerStars. Players can download the software at PokerStarsMtAiryCasino.com.
As of 4:00pm ET on Tuesday, there are between 600 and 700 players at the PokerStars Pennsylvania tables, according to the counter in the lobby.