Brick and Mortar PA Casinos with a Leg Up in the Internet Gambling Market

April 9, 2014

In December 2013, Pennsylvania lawmakers embarked on a journey that will possibly end with the Keystone State legalizing online gambling.

Allow me to elaborate.

With the passage of SR 273, the state’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee was tasked with examining the future viability of an intrastate iGaming market in Pennsylvania. By May 1st, 2014 the powerful committee will issue its findings, and by June 30, 2014 determine if Internet gambling can be worked into the current budget.

Weighing heavily on the committee’s study is neighbor New Jersey’s participation in the regulated gaming market. Although the Garden State has failed to live up to the lofty expectations initially set by Governor Christie, the market continues to perform admirably. And arguably, Pennsylvania – which houses a larger population and a bigger B&M casino scene – would generate substantially more iGaming revenue than its neighbor to the East.

Should the committee like what they see, poker players from Pennsylvania could be perusing regulated poker sites as early as 2015.

But where does that leave Pennsylvania’s B&M casinos?

The answer: In a great spot – especially those that manage to capitalize on a partnership with a major player in the online gaming industry.

In the sections that follow, we’ll breakdown which PA casinos we feel will become a cog in the iGaming wheel, and which will be left in the dial-up age.

PA casinos on track to become major players in iGaming industry

Parx Casino

Score: 9.5 / 10

Although it lacks affiliation with a major online brand, Parx Casino’s rapid growth and awe-inspiring revenue figures cannot be denied.

In fiscal year 2012-13 alone, PA’s most successful casino generated nearly $700 million in gross revenue, exceeding the profits wrought by closest competitor Sands by a cool $40 million. Factor in its widely successful 61-table poker room and a quarterly Big Stax series that by all accounts rivals the Borgata Open, and online operators should be lining out the casino cage to align with Parx.

In 2013, Parx entered into a multi-year arrangement with the hometown Philadelphia 76ers. On its own, that’s a big deal. But when you consider that Party Poker acts as the official online gaming partner of the 76ers, the possibilities become nearly infinite.

Few would be surprised if Party, which currently resides as New Jersey’s top performing online gaming operator, made an aggressive play at Parx Casino. And even if it doesn’t, any operator affiliated with Parx and the cross-promotional opportunities it affords is well positioned to become #1 in Pennsylvania’s nascent iGaming market.

Harrah’s Philadelphia

Score 9.0 / 10

Second on our list is Harrah’s Philadelphia, and for good reason. As Pennsylvania’s only Caesars Entertainment branded casino, Harrah’s Philly has the backing of the single largest b&m gaming entity on the planet.

If that weren’t enough, the casino hosts a 35-table WSOP branded poker room. Although smaller and less prestigious than Parx’s poker room, Harrah’s poker offering is known to draw massive crowds, especially during WSOP Circuit events. And given that online operator 888 Holdings and have already found success working together in both New Jersey and Nevada, it seems inevitable that a Harrah’s Philidelphia affiliated online poker room would be one of most widely traversed virtual rooms in the regulated marketplace.

However, with total annual revenues hovering only around $500 million, Harrah’s does not quite possess the same allure as Parx, and for that reason falls just short of our top spot.

Rivers Casino

Score 8.0 / 10

Rivers Casino has a few things going for it. As the only casino located on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, Rivers attracts a myriad of sports enthusiasts and would seemingly have little trouble becoming a sponsor for the beloved Steelers and Penguins. Both its table games and slot machines perform admirably, with revenue takes ranking third and fifth in the state, respectively.

Additionally, the fact that Rivers is a standalone casino may entice online operators who would rather align with a casino that values commercial gambling above parimutuel wagering. And at 30 tables with room for more, Rivers’ poker room more than holds its own against Pennsylvania’s more well-known live poker forays.

Still, there’s something a bit disjointing about Rivers’ past – namely the fact that its original constructor defaulted on a $200 million loan and had to sell the majority of his holdings to multi-billionaire Neil Bluhm. Yet despite its initial troubles, under Bluhm’s tutelage the casino has performed admirably, raking in over $480 million in revenue during fiscal 2012-13.

With Harrah’s most likely signing on with 888 and Parx partnering with Party Poker, the question of who Rivers will eventually align with remains in doubt. But instinct says that they’ll be one of the first three casinos to find an online gaming partner.

PA casinos chances in the iGaming market: The Best of the Rest

SugarHouse Casino

Score: 7.5 / 10

The SugarHouse is in the midst of a broad sweeping expansion that will see the inclusion of a poker room, and a marketed increase in the number of slot machines and table games.

That bodes exceedingly well for the Philadelphia-based casino, which already ranks fifth among all PA casinos in gross revenue. Even better, Wynn Resorts recently dropped its bid to build a casino one mile north of the SugarHouse.

Given its commitment to growth and its already admirable performance in the casino industry – particularly the table games arena – it’s hard not to see the SugarHouse becoming a player in the online gaming landscape.

Whether it can compete against the big boys may hinge on the size and popularity of its soon to be opened poker room.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs

Score 6.5 / 10

This is a tough one, if only because Indian tribes can be so shifty in their stance towards online gambling. But it appears that the Mohegan tribe is staunchly in favor of online gambling (or at least online poker), evident by its well-advertised free online poker room. Already offering winners prizes in the way of free rooms at Mohegan Sun, the free version of the room could easily be transformed into a real-money poker site.

That being said, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs prides itself on catering to the needs of families just as much as it does gamblers. Because it doesn’t focus its efforts on any one area, its likely that online gambling would just become another aspect of its offerings. As such, expect Mohegan Sun to become a player in the iGaming landscape, just not a big player.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National

Score: 6.0 / 10  

If it weren’t for the fact that Hollywood Casino was owned and operated by gaming behemoth Penn National Gaming, then the south central PA casino would rank significantly lower on our list.

But should Penn throw some of its financial girth around, it could easily attract one of the major players in the international gaming waters.

Regardless, Pennsylvania’s sixth highest grossing casino faces an uphill battle, especially on the online poker front. A 16-table live poker room that rarely hosts big name events is hardly enough to attract the whales. Neither is the relatively paltry $111 million it grossed from table games in fiscal 2012-13.

PA casinos with little chance of staking a claim in the iGaming market

Meadows RaceTrack and Casino

Score 4.5 / 10

Don’t let the revenue figures fool you, Meadows Racetrack and Casino reaps most of its profits from slot machines. Because it places such little emphasis on table games and poker, it’s very unlikely Meadows will land a prestigious online gaming partner.

Compounding matters further, its owner, Cannery Casino Resorts, owns two Las Vegas properties yet has done little to pursue a regulated iGaming permit.

Playing Devil’s advocate for a moment, Meadows does integrate a modicum of online gaming functionality into its preexisting site – just enough for us to designate the casino to the role of dark horse.

Presque Isle Downs

Score 3.5 / 10

Too much emphasis on horse betting and not enough on table games and poker. Could grab a slither of the proverbial iGaming pie, but hard to imagine it reaping massive dividends from online gaming.

Mount Airy Casino Resort

Score 2.5 / 10

Mount Airy is the Pennsylvanian equivalent of Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. At seven years old, the casino already looks antiquated. Not to mention, the casino floor is a virtual ghost land, sans weekends and Holidays.

Betfair was supposed to help revitalize interest in Trump Plaza. It didn’t. Don’t expect online operators to make the same mistake twice.

Lady Luck Casino

Score 2.0 / 10

It’s hard to envision a casino that only pulls in 1 percent of the state’s land-based gaming revenue to do much better on the virtual front. Worse yet, numbers for the newly-opened Lady Luck casino are on the decline. Not a player.

Valley Forge Casino Resort

Score 1.5 / 10

Valley Forge’s small size, pedestrian revenue numbers and lack of a poker room all but eliminate it from contention.

One of PA’s most profitable casinos a non-player on the iGaming front

Sands Bethlehem

On paper, Sands Bethlehem appears to be a prime candidate to lead Pennsylvania’s charge into the iGaming arena. Boasting over $656 million in annual revenue, a burgeoning poker room and off-the-chart table game proceeds, any online operator lucky enough to forge a partnership with Sands would find itself in an enviable position.

Yet there is one factor holding Sands back, and it’s a big one: Sands is owned by casino mogul and staunch online gambling opponent Sheldon Adelson.

To say Adelson is against the spread of regulated Internet gambling would be the understatement of the year.

In late-2013, Adelson launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Based on the premise that Internet gambling preys on the young, elderly and poor, Adelson has gone on public record stating that he will spend any amount of money to ensure that a federal bill permitting nationwide Internet gambling not be passed.

Furthermore, one of the Coalition’s  their operations.

So what does this mean for Sands PA? Simply stated, the odds of it entering the iGaming landscape are about on par with winning a Bad Beat Jackpot two hands in a row. In a word, none.

Score 0.0 / 10

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