This morning’s public meeting of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved two interactive gaming certificates and three sports betting applications.
Penn National was the first operator to apply for a license for PA sports betting. It has now been approved to conduct sports betting at its Hollywood Casino. First bets could be placed as early as November.
Like almost all the preliminary PGCB’s authorizations, Penn National will have to comply with a number of conditions before it can start operations.
The PGCB also approved Parx Casino, which asked for authorization to start sports betting at its main casino and the South Philadelphia Turf Club.
Proving requirements will create delays
The meeting saw a light-hearted but important exchange over whether launch could be simultaneous at both Parx locations.
The Office of Enforcement Counsel (OEC) said that its support was conditional on Parx owner Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment proving that its new technology worked at the main casino before deploying it to the Turf Club.
This came as a surprise to the Greenwood staff present who weren’t aware of any such stipulation. Their legal adviser told the PGCB that there was nothing in the law mandating such a delay.
The OEC maintained that the requirement would be in the conditions anyway. Strangely the OEC suggested that this wouldn’t be an impediment to a “simultaneous” launch. The Turf Club would simply launch after the Parx Casino.
This tautological interpretation caused some wry smiles, but the wider issue is that the PGCB now appears to be adopting this requirement as a matter of policy.
The impact of doing so will be more delays in the rollout of sports betting and online gaming in Pennsylvania.
There is already a requirement that sports betting cannot start until 90 days after the initial $10 million petition is filed. The PGCB has the power to reduce this period, but that power has not yet been tested.
A monthly meeting cycle is starting to become a constraint. There will be a steady drip, drip of approvals which means that the market will not experience a big bang moment like New Jersey.
Sports betting operations will roll out slowly over a period of months beginning in November.
Sands Bethlehem approved for online license
In what proved to be another surreal moment, the Sands Bethlehem submitted its application for an interactive gaming license.
It was surreal because the Sands is a vociferous opponent of online gambling. Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation Sheldon Adelson has spent a small fortune lobbying against online gambling. He is the power behind recent attempts to “restore” the federal Wire Act.
The Sands representative was in an excruciatingly embarrassing position as he explained the casino’s opposition while requesting authorization.
The situation arose because Sands is selling its Bethlehem casino in Pennsylvania to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Wind Creek Hospitality is paying $1.3 billion to takeover the Sands Bethlehem, and the Alabama tribe want the interactive gaming certificates. Since the sale has not completed, the Sands is in the awkward position of having to present the Wind Creek application.
No plans, no online partner, no problem the PGCB says “Yes!”
The surrealism doesn’t stop there. The Sands doesn’t know anything about online gambling and couldn’t tell the PGCB anything about the subject or Wind Creek’s plans.
The Wind Creek representative said that they were still in the process of buying the Sands. They haven’t yet got round to making their plans concrete, and they have not yet selected an online gaming partner.
With nothing but goodwill to go on, of course the PGCB granted the request. Admittedly the request was conditional on actually satisfying the various entities whose approval is required.
But the situation made a mockery of the process. The motivation behind the early application was nothing more than to take advantage of the $2 million saving on license fees by submitting an early application.
The PGCB did ask the pertinent questions:
- Who is paying the $10 million license fee? The Sands is putting up the money.
- What happens if the sale falls through? Sands won’t be offering online gaming and will have wasted its $10 million.
Valley Forge (with plan and partners) approved for online gaming
The other interactive gaming license applicant was the Valley Forge Casino. This time the PGCB receive a full and detailed presentation about the casino’s plans.
Valley Forge is partnered-up with FanDuel Sportsbook for its sportsbook operations, but the interactive licenses apply only to poker, slots and table games.
IGT is Valley Forge’s partner for its iGaming platform with GAN technology providing player account management. GeoComply and Aristotle will respectively provide geolocation and age/identity verification.
State of play in PA
We now have seven interactive licenses approved by the PGCB:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino
- Mount Airy Casino
- Parx Casino
- Sands Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino
Four casinos still have pending applications: Mohegan Sun Pocono, Presque Isle Downs (no online poker), Rivers Casino and the as yet unbuilt Stadium Casino.
Another seven licenses are up for sale to “Qualified Gaming Entities” through a random draw to be held on a date to be announced.
The three remaining applicants for sports betting licenses are Rivers Casino, SugarHouse Casino and Harrah’s Philadelphia. The other seven existing casinos have not yet petitioned the state.