In April 2018, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) came to decide how many online gambling licensees the state can launch. It calls these online casino websites “skins,” and in Pennsylvania, the sky is the limit on skins.
However, there is a specific mold these skins must fit.
After PGCB approved temporary rules and regulations regarding online gambling skins in PA, Executive Director Kevin O’Toole summed up the state’s skins policy:
“What the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board did at its public meeting of April 4, 2018, was to approve temporary regulations that enable a very open and competitive market for internet gaming while, at the same time, assuring transparency and accountability for the consumers. Under these temporary regulations, there is no limitation on the number of skins that a slot machine licensee may employ to deliver games, but every ‘skin’ that a casino offers must be branded in a manner that makes it clear that it is offered on behalf of the slot machine licensee consistent with language of the act.”
No limits, except on branding
That means, for example, Parx Casino, a PA casino license holder that had its online gambling license approved in August 2018, could launch a dozen connected casino websites or more, provided each one makes an obvious connection to Parx Casino through its branding.
It also means Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a PA casino license holder that also had its online gambling license approved in August, can launch a casino website, and another branded with its name and that of fellow Rush Street Gaming property Rivers Casino.
In fact, that’s the most likely reason why Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino pulled its application for an online gambling license. Why pay $10 million for a second online gambling license when you can piggyback on your sister site for free?
The NJ free market
New Jersey limits the number of skins allowed to operate under a single online gambling licensee to five and licensees have been using them since the market launched in late 2013. Numerous alternatively branded online gambling website have launched under various NJ internet gambling license holder umbrellas.
Increased operator and state tax revenue has been the result. Some act like skins on the same network as the license holder, while others remain separate entities simply using the license to operate.
SugarHouse Casino provides a good example of this. It launched a successful NJ online casino and sports betting site under Golden Nugget Atlantic City’s license. SugarHouse operates under the license alongside Golden Nugget and Betfair online casino sites.
The three sites combine to make Golden Nugget the top-grossing online gambling license holder in the state. However, there is very little in the way of connections between the three sites other than the shared license.
One major difference in NJ is that regulations do not mandate similar branding or any network connection. PA regulations do.
More restrictions on iGaming branding
In fact, PA skin regulations are more strict in several areas pertaining to this.
For example, the state limits players to a single account per license holder. It makes no difference how many skins the license holder runs:
“A player shall have only one interactive gaming account for each interactive gaming certificate holder or interactive gaming operator licensee. Each interactive gaming account shall be non-transferable; unique to the player who establishes the account; and distinct from any other account number that the player may have established with the interactive gaming certificate holder or interactive gaming operator licensee for non-interactive gaming activity.”
That means players are free to gamble on a SugarHouse Casino website or Rivers Casino skin. However, they can only have one account for use on either or both.
It’s mostly about branding. The state requires PA online gambling skins to clearly identify the license holder each operates under:
“All interactive gaming skins must, at all times, clearly identify the interactive gaming certificate holder or an entity within the interactive gaming certificate holder’s organizational structure, on the display screen visible to players.”
In fact, PA regulations may even require skins to use sub-domains operating under the license holder’s URL:
“Interactive gaming operator licensees are not permitted to offer interactive games in this Commonwealth independent from an interactive gaming certificate holder and the interactive gaming certificate holder’s web page or the web page of an entity within the interactive gaming certificate holder’s organizational structure.”
Taken literally, this regulation means a Rivers Casino skin would have to operate as a sub-domain to SugarHouse. In other words, there would be no RiversCasino.com website. Instead, it would be something along the lines of RiversCasino.PlaySugarHouse.com.
Are outside operators interested?
PA’s skins policy clearly opens up the market to online operators from outside of it. It allows outside entities to explore various partnerships with Pennsylvania land-based casinos. However, all the restrictions may actually make the market less attractive to anyone outside of it.
Moreover, the state gave companies from outside of PA the chance to apply to fly solo as an online casino. Even then, only two companies, MGM and Golden Nugget, submitted paperwork.
The state has lifted any limit on skins. However, it hasn’t exactly created an open market like New Jersey. There, outside entities come in and set up their own shop under an existing license holder’s umbrella. Whether more than just a few outside entities want to enter the PA under these conditions remains to be seen.