PlayUSA Rewind: Online Poker Championships Flourish In Pennsylvania, New Jersey

Posted on May 5, 2020 - Last Updated on May 23, 2020

While we’re not out of the woods yet, states across the country are beginning to ease restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Some will soon allow select businesses to reopen, of course with capacity limitations and social distancing guidelines in place.

Online poker and online casinos have thrived during the shutdown, but major sports remain sidelined and casinos remain closed.

On that note, on to the Rewind:

Online poker tourneys crush in PA, NJ

We expected online poker to pick up steam as stay-at-home orders permeated the country. Perhaps no better example of this occured via PokerStars in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The inaugural Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker, featuring 50 distinct events, boasted prize pools totaling a whopping $3.2 million. Prior to the championship’s start, PokerStars dog-eared guarantees up to $2 million.

With more than 56,000 players and over 23,000 re-entries, PASCOOP finished with a total nearing 80,000 entries. The Main Event (High) carried a $200,000 guarantee, one that was easily topped as 1,315 entries pushed the prize pool to $368,200. The winner left with a cool $57,000.

Days later, the New Jersey Spring Championship of Online Poker, also hosted by PokerStars, posted similar figures.

Nearly $1.8 million was awarded in 96 events that featured over 33,000 entries, easily becoming the most successful tourney in the championship’s five-year history in the Garden State.

New Jersey’s Main Event itself included 620 entries that led to a $173,600 prize pool. The champ pocketed more than $30,000.

Michigan casinos struggling amid pandemic

It’s no secret that the nation’s retail gaming industry has suffered immensely since the coronavirus forced shutdowns. Michigan provides a microcosm of the struggle.

Bridge Magazine published a report detailing the continued closures of the state’s 23 tribal casinos, which have been shuttered since March 22 and will remain as such until at least May 15.

While other states have benefited from online gambling to at least maintain some sort of revenue stream, Michigan has land-based gaming only, for now. As such, the tail end of March and April concluded without a single legal wager made.

Without operational casinos, tribes are unable to fund services such as health, education and law enforcement, among other areas. Really, casinos provide a vast majority of funding for tribes.

For example, Bridge noted that as much as 60% of the budget for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community stems from the Ojibwa Casino. Similarly, some 75% of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is backed by gaming revenue.

The rest of the state certainly misses casinos, considering those properties have contributed more than $30 million to local governments and over $54 million to the state in 2019.

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Some relief coming for smaller casinos

While the pandemic has made it difficult for businesses to stay afloat, the Small Business Administration recently updated its guidelines for Payroll Protection Program loans that exclude small US gambling businesses.

Translation: Smaller casinos could receive loans to pay wages, utilities and rent during the shutdown.

The update came as Congress funneled $310 billion to fund the program.

Initially, “small businesses” were defined as establishments with less than 500 employees, which makes them available to receive up to $10 million or 2 ½ months of payroll, whichever is less. The trouble, however, stemmed from the SBA classifying gambling businesses as risky and “of poor character,” thus preventing that industry from receiving aid.

Now, though, guidelines dictate that any business eligible for a loan is not be overlooked based on gambling-related income.

That said, those businesses must vie with many, many others in various industries to acquire such help. Some 30 million small businesses exist in the country, and the money released by Congress is enough for just 31,000 loans at the max payout.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf throughout his career.

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