Online Casino Gaming Has Lift Off in Pennsylvania Through Hollywood and Parx, Poker and Blackjack Have to Wait

Posted on: July 16, 2019, 11:35h. 

Last updated on: July 16, 2019, 11:35h.

Almost two years after Pennsylvania passed sweeping gambling reforms that legalized online gaming, poker and sports betting, the first licensed and regulated real-money online casinos opened for business in Pennsylvania Monday – kind of.

Pennsylvania online casino
The Hollywood Casino at Penn National Racecourse is the first past the post when it comes to launching Pennsylvania online casino gaming, closely followed by Parx Casino. (Penn National)

After months of rigorous product testing by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PCGB), Penn National’s Hollywood Casino ( launched on Monday morning for… more testing. A three-day beta phase — during which online gaming will only be available during certain hours — will precede full launch, regulator permitting.

Hollywood Casino was followed quickly into the market by Parx, which launched its new platform,, in beta phase at around 3pm on Monday. On Wednesday, SugarHouse Casino will debut its offering for two days of testing. In all, some 13 licensees will join the new market, probably sometime this year.

Online sports betting is already up and running with several operators, after SugarHouse — which will soon change its name to Rivers Casino Philadelphia — took the plunge back in March.

Pennsylvania is the fourth state in the US to offer online casino gaming and the first to launch since 2013.

What’s Up with Blackjack?

Conspicuous by their absence from the new online gaming platforms are online poker and blackjack, although they should be arriving soon. Poker uses person-to-person (P2P) software, which is more complex than simple slots and video poker.

Blackjack, meanwhile, has its own set of rules in Pennsylvania — dealers must stand rather than hit on soft 17, for example — which makes the house edge smaller.

All games must follow these rules as a matter of regulatory compliance, which means online gambling licensees and their tech partners cannot simply use white-label software that exists elsewhere – it must be Pennsylvania-friendly, and that, apparently, requires extra testing.

Parx and Recreation

Parx, the leader in the state’s casino market, was one of two land-based operators that opposed the legalization of online gaming prior to the passage of the state’s new online gaming laws. The other was the Sands Bethlehem, then owned by Sheldon Adelson’s vehemently anti-online-gambling LVS.

Parx’s CEO Anthony Ricci was concerned that internet casinos would cannibalize the existing Pennsylvania casino market, a theory that has not been borne out in the case of New Jersey.

But those reservations appear to have been put to one side.

Parx’s online casino offering is the bigger of the two new platforms, with 191 slot titles, more than four times that of the Hollywood Casino platform.

Once online gambling was passed by the legislature, Parx pressed for a framework of regulation that would limit “skins” –or online gaming brands — to one per land-based licensee, a move that would have limited the scope of the market.

PGCB ultimately determined that licensees could have multiple skins, but, as a concession to Parx, each skin must clearly show a relationship with a land-based casino in its branding and it must be run through the casino’s domain. Quite how this will work in practise is unclear, especially when a big-name operator like PokerStars enters the market.