Happy Anniversary, PokerStars PA: Highlights from an Eventful First Year in Pennsylvania

Blow out that candle. This week PokerStars PA marks the completion of one full year dealing virtual hands to Pennsylvania online poker players.

With the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono as its retail partner, PokerStars PA spent its entire first year as the only operating online poker site for Pennsylvania players.

It was a year highlighted by numerous tournament series and other events, all serving to establish PokerStars PA’s primacy at the start of the new era of online poker in the Keystone State.

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PokerStars returns to PA after nearly nine years away

On Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, PokerStars Pennsylvania launched both its online casino and online poker room. After a couple of “soft launch” partial days under the watchful eyes of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the site went 24/7 on Nov. 6.

Those downloading the client gained access to both the online casino and online poker room. Also, for sports bettors the FOX Bet Sportsbook was just a click away.

It was the first time since April 2011 online poker players in Pennsylvania were able to play on PokerStars. Early indications revealed they were enthusiastic to play on the site again.

There was another factor likely affecting players’ eagerness to sit down at the virtual tables. It had taken two full years for the first online poker site to launch after PA legalized online gambling in late 2017.

A warm welcome to the Commonwealth

PokerStars PA marked the occasion right away with a 50-event Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker series starting at the end of November. Turnouts were larger than expected with prize pools routinely exceeding events’ guarantees. In fact in some cases, the prize pools doubled or tripled them.

That encouraged PokerStars to up the guarantees for several of the later PACOOP events. What had been $1 million in total guarantees was increased an extra $225K. Ultimately the series awarded nearly $1.56 million.

Thus began what evolved into a regular series of announcements regarding new tournament series throughout 2020. Indeed, it seemed there was always either a series happening on PokerStars PA or a new one just around corner.

Tournament series central to site’s year one strategy

It makes sense that PokerStars PA kept the tournament series coming. As turnouts for series’ events consistently demonstrated, they were giving PA players what they wanted.

While a few scattered tournaments had overlays, the majority again bested guarantees. Also, in every case the series’ overall prize pools exceeded the events’ total guarantees.

Here’s a summary showing how PokerStars PA’s major tournament series went during the site’s first year.

PokerStars PA first year tournament series stats

PokerStars PA Tournament Series Events Total Guarantees Total Payouts
PACOOP (Nov. 30-Dec. 15, 2019) 50 $1,225,000 $1,559,767
Winter Series (Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2020) 30 $675,000 $828,205
Bounty Builder (Feb. 20-Mar. 1, 2020) 32 $500,000 $668,241
PASCOOP (Apr. 4-20, 2020) 100 $2,000,000 $3,232,461
Summer Series (Jun. 18-28, 2020) 38 $757,000 $1,175,464
Bounty Builder (Jul. 12-26, 2020) 70 $1,502,000 $1,968,721
PACOOP (Sep. 19-Oct. 5, 2020) 50 $1,500,000 $2,039,133

Year One PokerStars PA tournament highlights

As shown, tournament series participation peaked in April with the PokerStars PA Spring Championship of Online Poker. Awarding over $3.2 million altogether, PASCOOP culminated with a huge Main Event featuring a $368,200 prize pool.

At the time, that was the largest prize pool ever for an online poker tournament in Pennsylvania. PokerStars PA would go on to break that record on a couple of occasions with special one-off tournaments called Pennsyl-MANIA.

Both Pennsyl-MANIA tournaments were $200 buy-in, two-day events allowing up to five entries. The first Pennsyl-MANIA in May more than doubled its $250K guarantee, drawing 2,774 total entries and creating a $515,964 prize pool to set a new all-time high.

The second Pennsyl-MANIA in August came with a $350K guarantee. That one attracted 2,026 total entries and awarded $376,836.

The focus on tournament series will no doubt continue into PokerStars PA’s second year. Indeed, they’ve already announced another one, the 35-event PokerStars 1st Anniversary Series with $1 million in guarantees happening Nov. 8-16.

Strong spring revenue numbers highlight of first year

In terms of the site’s overall performance, those spring months were by far the strongest for PokerStars PA.

Being the only online poker site operating in the state was already a plus for PokerStars PA. But the forced closure of live poker rooms starting in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic no doubt increased online traffic even further.

Even when PA casinos started to open again in June, poker rooms remained closed per state regulators’ COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols. Some casinos started submitting reopening plans for their poker rooms to the PGCB last month, and by now a few have reopened with extensive safety protocols and limited capacity.

In terms of overall revenue, online poker exceeded PokerStars online casino (slots and table games) until May. Online poker revenue peaked in April 2020 at just over $5.25 million when online casino brought in $5.20 million.

More recently, monthly totals for online have settled back closer to what the site earned during its first months, while casino maintains momentum made during the pandemic closures. PokerStars Casino revenue peaked in May with $6.29 million, and these verticals have brought in $37.74 million in revenue in year one (through September). Compare that with $32.74 million for online poker.

Here’s a month-by-month overview of PokerStars PA revenue totals for its first year, with the October figures still pending.

PokerStars PA Year One revenue

Month Revenue State/local tax (16%)
November 2019 $1,965,494 $314,479
December 2019 $2,473,137 $395,702
January 2020 $2,157,266 $345,162
February 2020 $1,830,356 $290,752
March 2020 $3,133,019 $500,384
April 2020 $5,253,304 $837,550
May 2020 $4,596,418 $729,851
June 2020 $3,240,917 $509,590
July 2020 $2,986,498 $477,840
August 2020 $2,729,199 $436,672
September 2020 $2,376,045 $380,167
Total to date: $32,741,652 $5,218,150

PokerStars PA looks ahead to year two

Looking ahead, PokerStars PA will no longer enjoy its Pennsylvania online poker monopoly during its second year. Having cleared regulators’ hurdles, other online poker sites are expected to launch in the state in 2021, among them WSOP.com and partypoker.

Meanwhile the new year may also see PokerStars launching an online poker site in Michigan to go along with its sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It will be interesting to find out if PokerStars positions itself to enjoy a headstart in MI much as it was able to in PA.

It will also be interesting to see how PokerStars PA fares in year two, as well as how Pennsylvania online poker players react when new options arrive in 2021.

Image via Dreamstime/Paul George Bodea

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