The state of Pennsylvania was set to instantly become the biggest regulated online poker market in the USA this winter but it appears poker players are going to have to wait at least a few more months to go all-in.
The recent reinterpretation of the Wire Act is behind the delay and online poker operators have been forced to reschedule Sportsbook their doors to at least this summer.
News broke during a House Appropriation Committee budget hearing this week when Pennsylvania Control Board executive director Kevin O’Toole admitted the Wire Act change had slowed the rollout of online poker in the state and there would be a delay in coming to market.
Pennsylvania and its population of more than 12.8 million would be a game-changer for the online poker market in the USA and it’s a blow to anyone who expected to be playing cards online in the state by this point.
On the bright side, none of the presumptive operators have decided to pull out of the market because of the Wire Act change.
Wire Act Change Remains Controversial
Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was reinterpreting the federal Wire Act and perhaps restricting further online poker expansion in the USA.
The DoJ released a memorandum that said it was reconsidering the 2011 change that essentially allowed individual states to allow online gambling if they saw fit.
It’s unclear exactly how the change will affect online poker sites in the USA but for the time being it appears it will put the brakes on interstate compacts between sites. New Jersey and Nevada were the first states to allow players from each state to compete against each other. Sportsbook was forced to deny New Jersey players the chance to win a WSOP gold bracelet online this summer because of the change.
News of the reinterpretation of the Wire Act was met with fierce opposition from the online poker industry, which currently offers regulated games in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
The reinterpretation is particularly criticized because of the involvement of Las Vegas Sands Corp. chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. The gambling mogul contributed to a coalition that lobbied the DoJ about the Wire Act law.
Adelson has been a staunch opponent of online gambling for years and has attempted to block online poker legislation at every step. In the past the billionaire has said he would spend whatever it took to stop online gambling.
It’s fair to say that Adelson, as the owner of numerous bricks-and-mortar casinos, could potentially lose money if online gambling is permitted.
WSOP.com, PokerStars Still Primed for Pennsylvania
When online poker finally goes live in Pennsylvania this summer (or late 2019), poker players will have a wealth of options when it comes to poker sites.
All the major players in the regulated online poker market in the USA including 888poker, PokerStars and WSOP.com (Sportsbook) have already acquired licenses.
Sportsbook has its own properties in Pennsylvania so it was easy to acquire a license for its WSOP.com platform.
Meanwhile, sites like 888poker and PokerStars have partnered with local casino groups like Mount Airy to offer their services.
The Pennsylvania market is particularly enticing for the online poker market because the state’s population is even bigger than that of New Jersey, which is currently the biggest regulated market in the USA. In an ideal world, Pennsylvania and New Jersey would be able to share players and that would hopefully be enough to create a tipping point for the player base. More players equals bigger payouts in large tournaments.
Part of the reason online poker was able to explode in the early 2000s was because it was still a global market instead of a geo-restricted one. The fields were huge and so were the prize pools.
New York, which has made some strides to legalizing online poker over the last six months, would be a massive market all on its own.
Of course there’s no telling what effect the new Wire Act reinterpretations will have on the ongoing efforts toward legalizing online poker across the USA.