PlayLive!, Pennsylvania’s branded Internet wagering business, will be launching in the coming days to offer Pennsylvania residents the opportunity to play Vegas casino online casino games and place sports bets online. The brand is now set to start to develop Live!-branded properties in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The platform was created by GAN Limited and the Cordish Gaming Group. The two businesses, which have been working together on other projects, are taking the lead in bringing online casino gambling to Pennsylvania. Robert J. Norton, President of Cordish Gaming Group, said, “GAN was the logical provider of our enterprise platform for launching real money Internet gambling and offers Cordish the ability to extend on-property rewards into the online channel, which has been shown to increase loyalty amongst players of Simulated Gaming.”
GAN and Cordish already operate a PlayLive! company in Maryland and are now bringing the brand to Pennsylvania. Cordish will be partnering with FanDuel as its sportsbook partner.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia
The PlayLive! online platform is expected to launch before the Cordish land-based facilities open in Philadelphia and Pittsburg. Work is still going on in both locations and the company says that it still projects that both sites will open before the end of the year. The Live! Hotel and Casino is located in the Philadelphia sports stadium area. It’s an entertainment and gaming destination and will include restaurants, an esports arena, 150 live-action table games, 2200 slots plus a hotel and shopping.
The Pittsburgh Live! Casino is in Westmoreland County, just outside of the city. It’s set to feature an entertainment space, dining and more than 100,000 square feet of gaming space with 750 slot machines and 30 live-action table games.
Cordish projects that the Internet gaming website and related mobile apps will be ready to launch in the coming months. There will be a full menu of gaming content including table games, slots and sports betting. All Pennsylvania residents will be invited to enroll in advance to receive a Live! Rewards Players Card.
Pennsylvania Casinos Unite
As the Cordish casino openings get underway, other Pennsylvania casinos are uniting in their call to request that state gambling authorities shut down “skill gaming machines” that have been set up in convenience stores throughout the state. Skill gaming machines are similar to slots but playing them involves a nominal amount of skill – whereas a regular slot machine notifies the gamer whether or not his spin resulted in a win, with a skill machine, the player is responsible for identifying the winning payline.
Over the last few years the skill machines, which are unregulated, have proliferated in convenience stores, bars and restaurants. The state’s casino operators have agitated against them for years but their frustration boiled over during the coronavirus shutdown when they were forced to close their operations while the skill machines continued to operate.
Last month an attorney representing several casinos sent an email to state officials demanding that the state seize the machines. Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos closed in March when Governor Tom Wolf shut down all nonessential businesses. No date for re-opening has yet been set. Slots are the bread-and-butter for casinos – Pennsylvania’s casinos took in a total of $200.36 million from slots in April 2019 but $0 in April 2020.
The casinos say that as they lose tens of millions of dollars, the skill gaming machines are filling the void. Governor Wolf’s March 19th closure order instructed establishments with gaming machines that “Operations of these machines during the current health emergency encourages people to congregate unnecessarily and is prohibited under the Governor’s order of March 19, 2020…any business operating, servicing, or otherwise maintaining a ‘Game of Skill’ is subject to enforcement which may include an order to suspend otherwise authorized in-person operations.”
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has said that skill gaming machines do not fall under its legal regulatory authority. In November 2019 a Commonwealth judge agreed with the Authority and ruled that the Gaming Act does not regulate unlicensed slot machines.
Currently the Pennsylvania State Police are not seizing skill gaming machines. Law enforcement officials have made it clear that they prefer that the General Assembly legislate the machines as legal or illegal gambling devices. In the meantime, establishments that host the terminals are keeping them on. The owner of one establishment said that he initially disabled the machines but after several customers complained, saying that they were on at other stores, he turned them back on.
Pennsylvania Casinos Look Towards Reopening
Casinos throughout the country are beginning to reopen but the regulations for reopening vary widely from one state to the next. No date has yet been set to allow Pennsylvania casinos to reopen but state officials have already given Pennsylvania casino operators an idea of what they will be able to expect in regard to health guidelines.
Masks for all employees and all patrons will be non-negotiable in Pennsylvania. That puts Pennsylvania at variance with other casinos in other states where employers must wear masks but customers have a choice of whether or not they want to wear a mask.
One other big change in Pennsylvania casinos will be the absence of live poker due to the proximity in which players generally sit. In other states, live poker will be offered and no seating limits will be imposed.
Some gambling states have established a limit of 50% of normal maximum occupancy on the gaming floor (Louisiana is allowing just 25%) but Pennsylvania is being more lenient in this matter. Pennsylvania is also not requiring temperature checks of everyone entering the gaming floor though individual casinos might well prefer to take that step. Pennsylvania is also not adopting Mississippi’s policy of questioning all patrons about their recent health history upon entering the casino.
In general, the 10-page pamphlet listing health and safety protocols for Pennsylvania casinos offers the state’s casinos a relatively flexible environment in which to resume operations. Casinos will be asked to submit their own detailed plans for reopening and state health officials will review the plans and make their own recommendations which will include social distancing policies and extensive sanitation/cleaning programs.
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach described the board’s outlook. “Each casino is of different size and layout, so we believe our guidelines on submitting ‘plans to limit and/or manage the number of guests permitted at any one time to further applicable social distancing guidelines’ can be best made by the casino, based on their corporate safety protocols along with direction from state government and health officials….we will review all individual plans for compliance to our protocols, but each casino is certainly committed to providing the safest environment for its patrons, who would refrain from entering a casino if proper guidelines were not in place.”