ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Internet poker players in three states will be able to face off against each other starting May 1, in a long-awaited expansion of online gambling.
Two poker brands of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, WSOP.com and 888Poker.com, plan to go live on that date in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, the company told The Associated Press on Monday.
It would be the first joint play arrangement linking the three states that currently offer internet gambling. Pennsylvania is soon to offer online gambling, too, but is not party to the deal.
Caesars anticipates final regulatory approval from all three states, and has submitted its software for testing in all three jurisdictions.
The goal is to increase liquidity: The more people playing online at the same time, the larger the prize pools, and the more appealing the games are.
"This has been a huge collaborative effort from all involved and it is important to thank the elected leadership and regulatory authorities in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey for their dedication and diligence to help move online poker forward," said Bill Rini, WSOP.com's head of online poker. "Everyone has had the end user in mind throughout this process, and as a result, we believe the United States, for the first time in a regulated environment, will have a large-scale multi-state offering that will propel the industry forward as soon as next month."
"Pooling poker players from three states will be a significant regulatory step in the U.S., and is very exciting for our players and partners," added Yaniv Sherman, 888's senior vice president. "If approved, we anticipate that this will open up further opportunities in other states."
Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware Lottery, said the arrangement offers players an "exciting opportunity to enhance their experience."
Nevada Gaming Control Board chairwoman Becky Harris said the agency "is pleased to be part of this collaborative effort between regulators, operators, and the platform manufacturer to achieve the common goal of providing a sound gaming experience for patrons across multiple jurisdictions while still meeting our individual jurisdictional requirements."
The pact will require Delaware and Nevada customers of the two companies to download new software and create a new account to be able to participate. Existing Delaware and Nevada poker software from the companies will cease to operate after this process takes effect. New Jersey players with an existing account will not be affected.
Gambling regulators in the three states have been looking for ways to increase the player pool for online poker. Attorney Sarah Koch from the Ifrah law firm In Washington, which has worked with the Delaware Lottery on internet gambling matters, explained the appeal of interstate online pools on her firm's web site.
"No matter how sophisticated the platform or how well-designed the user experience, the game will only be successful if there is a critical mass of players online at any given time," she wrote. "And poker rooms need a range of skill levels and buy-in levels. The best way to ensure 24/7 liquidity is to offer the game to a large number of players across time zones."
Players in Nevada and Delaware have been able to play against each other since 2015, but New Jersey is now set to join under an agreement announced last October.
New Jersey has been the biggest market of the three states that began offering internet gambling in 2013. Atlantic City's casinos won $245 million online in 2017, an increase of nearly 25 percent from a year earlier, but that figure includes traditional casino games in addition to online poker.
So far this year, New Jersey's "peer-to-peer" internet gambling revenue was just under $5.7 million, down nearly 16 percent from the same period last year as players were restricted to competing with others who are physically located within New Jersey's state boundaries.