At the end of October, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill to legalize and regulate online gambling – including poker – in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania is now the fourth state – behind Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey – to legalize online poker, so now the discussions in the poker community revolve around when, exactly, might Pennsylvania’s online gambling industry get up and running. We won’t get into that here (though if I were to speculate, it would be mid-2018 at the earliest), but it has been interesting to see that PokerStars already expects to get in on the action.
In a recent earnings call, Rafi Ashkenazi, the CEO of PokerStars parent company, The Stars Group, said, “We are poised to take advantage of the positive momentum in the growth of online gaming globally and the continued march towards regulation, including in the United States where we aim to be among the first operators to launch in Pennsylvania when that state opens its door to online poker and casino.”
Well, he certainly didn’t mince words there.
What remains to be seen is how PokerStars will become one of those operators. According to the new law, there will be twelve licenses available for online poker (as well as twelve more for online table games and twelve for online slots), corresponding to the number of brick-and-mortar casinos in the state. It looks like a thirteenth license will be added, as well, as the bill opened the door for the Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia to begin construction. Adding a thirteenth land-based casino will add a thirteenth licensing slot.
The current casinos in Pennsylvania get first dibs at the available licenses. They aren’t cheap, either. Each of the three license types – poker, table games, and slots – cost $4 million each just for the application. Should any of the casinos apply for all three within 90 days, they can apply for $10 million combined. If there are still available licenses after 120 days, outside “qualified” operators can apply, but they don’t get the discount.
Where PokerStars would probably enter would be as a partner with one of the casinos (applications in this case are less expensive). A casino would apply for the main license and PokerStars would apply for a secondary license to be the gambling platform provider for the casino. This is what PokerStars did in New Jersey, joining up with Resorts AC.
One can only speculate as to which casino PokerStars would team up with in Pennsylvania, but Mohegan Sun Pocono isn’t a bad guess. Mohegan Sun manages Resorts AC, so it already has experience working with PokerStars. If Mohegan Sun wants to get in on the online gambling business in Pennsylvania, it seems only natural that it would continue to work with PokerStars. Then again, who knows if the company wants to and who knows if PokerStars wants to, either?
One analyst did ask about how PokerStars is going to go about obtaining a Pennsylvania license. Chief Legal Office Marlon Goldstein had a fairly vague answer, responding, “We’re still evaluating our options in terms of who we may want to partner with and the landscape in Pennsylvania generally. But again, we are really excited to be competing in that market sequentially as soon as possible.”