For over the last year, the online gambling industry has speculated on the launch of online poker and online casinos in the state of Pennsylvania. Now we have the firmest date yet of when online gambling could be live in PA — July 1st.
The timeframe comes from the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, who made the comments during a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing. The date given is not a hard deadline — it’s not out of the realm of possibility to be delayed again — but Pennsylvania players should feel good that a man at the top of the PGCB is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Online gambling was originally expected to go live in the state in late 2018 or early 2019. But recent concerns stemming from the Department of Justice’s Wire Act reversal have pushed that back with a “modest delay” to ensure compliance.
Since the announcement in January, states and online gambling companies have been trying to figure out the scope of the new opinion and how to comply.
What’s the holdup?
Should the online gambling launch in July, the day would mark nearly two years since Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill that called for widespread gambling expansion in the state, including a new online gambling market. Some have said that the PGCB has taken their time in implementing online gambling, have been some good reasons for the delay. The only state of Pennsylvania’s size to open up online gambling so far — New Jersey — launched online gambling just nine months after a bill was signed by Governor Chris Christie. In hindsight, that timeframe may prove to be the exception rather than the rule.
Still, few would argue that two years isn’t a long time to wait, especially for online gambling companies that have invested nearly $10 million in licenses for the ability to offer online poker, online slots and online table games.
Pennsylvania seems to have taken a measured approach to the rollout of online gambling, which was just one part of Pennsylvania’s massive gambling expansion. Much of the attention in early 2018 was focused on mini-casinos, while the second half of 2018 was dominated by the licensing and launch of sportsbooks across the state.
Now the attention turns to online gambling, where ten PA casinos have been approved to offer games. Many expected online gambling to launch towards the end of 2018. Of course, that didn’t happen and now the most recent delay can be attributed to the Department of Justice’s latest reversal on the Wire Act.
Why has the Wire Act been a problem?
The new opinion stated that the 1961 Wire Act not only applied to sports betting across state lines but also many other forms of online gambling. The opinion was vague but was enough to rattle states and companies invested in online gambling in the United States. The Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board ultimately decided to move forward with online gambling with the belief that the Department of Justice did not intend to restrict online gambling within a state, only online gambling that happens to cross state borders — such as poker rooms that share liquidity across state lines.
The waters have still been muddied but Pennsylvania and other states seem to be banking on the DOJ taking a more measured approach with their opinion. The PGCB gave PA casinos through February to present plans for how they intend to comply with the new laws.
Due to the fact that PA betting by nature occurs within a regulated state’s borders, the main concern was the infrastructure that casinos need to facilitate wager. Many PA casinos with operations in New Jersey, for example, had planned to leverage their New Jersey infrastructure. Although allowed by PA law, this would have meant that a Pennsylvanian placing a bet in the state of PA could be utilizing infrastructure in another state. Now that the DOJ has a revised opinion on the Wire Act, that is something that the state of Pennsylvania wants to avoid by keeping all parts of the wagering process within the state.
The Department of Justice is giving states and companies some breathing room to be in compliance. The original deadline was set for April 15th, but that was extended this week to June 14th. By that time, a judge may rule on a lawsuit from the New Hampshire Lottery challenging the law. While that decision is not expected to affect online gambling, a win in that lawsuit would only help PA internet gambling.
For now, and until we know more, look or online gambling to finally go live in Pennsylvania sometime this summer.