Legal Online Betting in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Gambling History

Gambling and betting in the state of Pennsylvania has modest roots. That is quickly changing as a new generation of Pennsylvanians are changing the political and cultural landscape of the state. Pennsylvania has had several failed attempts at having gambling in some type of form passed within the state. In 1993 there was a push for legalizing gambling in state waterways via riverboats. The strongest opposition was based on the belief that it would result in negative effects on families, increased traffic congestion, and ultimately lead to increased crime in the state. There was another failed attempt at passing legislation to enable slot machines at the state’s four racetracks, authorize riverboats to offer betting, and allow video poker at taverns. This legislation never even reached a vote and ultimately died. Outside of these failed attempts, the history of gambling in the state of Pennsylvania can be primarily summarized by two pieces of legislation: Act 91 of 1971 and Act 71 of 2004. Both acts were focused on different areas of gambling that have laid the groundwork for further advancement and implementation of casino and sportsbook gaming within the state.

Act 91 of 1971

Pennsylvania first legalized gambling through a state lottery on August 26, 1971. The first lottery drawing took place on March 7, 1972. The Pennsylvania Lottery sold 50 cent tickets for the weekly drawings featuring $1 million prizes. The unique aspect of the lottery in Pennsylvania is that the proceeds from selling lottery tickets initially went towards benefiting the elderly within the state. While proceeds do still go to provide property tax relief for seniors, Pennsylvania has extended the benefits to rent rebates, reduced public transit costs, lower prescription drugs, long-term living services, and full and part-time senior centers. The Pennsylvania lottery is the only state lottery that designates all proceeds to benefit older residents. Pennsylvania along with 43 other states currently have a state lottery. Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, and Utah are the only state that do not offer a state lottery.

Act 71 of 2004

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation regarding Pennsylvania gambling was Act 71 of 2004. On July 4, 2004, the governor at that time, Ed Rendell stood in the Winner’s Circle at Philadelphia Park, now known as Parx Casino and Racing, and signed Act 71 into law. Act 71 was also known as the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act, that brought slot machines and casino gambling to the state. Additionally, the Act did three major things that laid the groundwork for gambling within the state: established the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, legalized casinos, and legalized racetracks. The act offered three types of licenses:

  • Category 1: Facetracks
  • Category 2: Stand alone casinos
  • Category 3: Resort casinos

While gambling did become legal with the passing of this act, gambling was not the primary objective of the Act. The Act was primarily focused on protecting the public through the regulation of activities involving gaming and gambling. It also laid out regulations to generate new revenue to support tax relief, wage tax reduction, and other sources of economic development including increased tourism to Pennsylvania for those seeking the thrill of gaming.

Who is Allowed to Gamble in Pennsylvania?

Not surprising is that the legal gambling age is 21 years old. Gambling is offered to the citizens of Pennsylvania and to any visitors within the state. The same applies to those that are looking to gamble online. You must be physically present in the state of Pennsylvania and be of appropriate age in order to place bets or wagers through any Pennsylvania casino.

What Types of Gaming will be Offered?

Pennsylvania offers several types of games within their casinos. The initial thought behind offering gaming in casinos was focused on slot machines. But since then, table games have been the games that have been surging over the last few years. Now, anything from horse racing to blackjack you can find in Pennsylvania. Some of the more popular games that are available are:

  • Slot Machines: responsible for $2.36 billion of revenue in PA gambling in 2017, the casinos offer your classic slot machine games including other table game type of slot machines
  • Table Games: tables games were responsible for $890 million worth of revenue in PA gambling in 2017. While still considerably less than the revenue of slot machines, table games have surged and been increasing every year whereas slot machines has flat lined during that same time. This is due to the increasing variety of games that are being offered.

All casinos in Pennsylvania offer the following games:

  • Slots
  • Video poker
  • Craps
  • Blackjack
  • Roulette
  • Three card poker
  • Mini Baccarat
  • Paigow Poker

Some casinos offer the following games:

  • Baccarat
  • Poker
  • Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em
  • Texas Hold ‘Em Bonus
  • Let it Ride
  • Pai Gow
  • Big 6 Wheel
  • Spanish 21
  • Fourcard poker
  • SicBo
  • Mississippi Stud
  • Casino War

Can I Play These Casino Games Online?

Online gambling still has not launched yet in Pennsylvania as it is still going through approval and review of the online internet service providers and other security details surrounding the offering of casino games online. However, the online gambling platforms should be available in the Winter of 2018 at the earliest.

The licenses that the casinos apply for cover the following online games:

  • Non-peer-to-peer interactive slot machine games
  • Non-peer-to-peer simulated table games
  • Peer-to-peer poker

Which Casinos Will Offer Online Gaming?

As of August 15th, Pennsylvania has awarded the first online gaming licenses for three of the state’s casinos: Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia, Parx Casino, and Mount Airy Resort Casino. Although the licenses have been awarded, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board still have to approved the online service providers before the casinos can begin testing their online applications.

There are still seven other licenses that have not yet been issued but have been applied for by:

  • Presque Isle Downs Casino
  • Mohegan Sun
  • Hollywood Casino
  • Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
  • The Rivers Casino
  • SugarHouse Casino
  • The Valley Forge Casino Resort
  • Stadium Casino (not yet built but is currently under construction)

This leaves Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Lady Lucky Casino as the only two other Pennsylvania casinos that have yet to apply for an online gaming license.

Can I Bet On Sports Games In Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania has been slower than other states to offer sports betting after the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Murphy vs. NCAA. However, many experts believe that the Pennsylvania sports betting market will take off soon and will see large revenue from bets within the state considering the avid and loyal fan bases of the Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers, 76ers, and Phillies. Pennsylvania will begin seeing increased revenue and, most likely, become one of the largest sports betting services in the country once the casinos do develop their online sports applications and websites and begin offering sports betting.

Bettors will be able to bet on:

  • Single-game outcome
  • Parlays
  • Over-Under lines
  • Money line
  • Pools

Will The Same Casinos Also Be Offering Online Sports Betting?

Not all casinos that plan on operating online gambling sites will offer sports betting. A lot goes into sports betting compared to your typical tables games and slot machines. Several casinos are backed by larger national corporations that may have a legup on the ability to set up sportsbooks that are backed by metrics and advanced artificial intelligence to offer advanced lines on sporting events.

The following casinos do have concrete place to begin offering betting on sporting events soon:

  • Parx Casino
  • Hollywood Casino
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • South Philadelphia Sports Club
  • SugarHouse Casino
  • Harrah’s Philadelphia
  • Stadium Casino

Out of these casinos that plan to offer sports betting, Parx has partnered with GAN, who is an award winning developer and supplier of enterprise level B2B Internet gaming software, services and online gaming content in the United States. Because of this partnership, you could expect Parx to be the premiere leader in online sports betting in the state.

What Are The Next Steps In Online Gaming Within Pennsylvania?

As it currently stands, the majority of casinos in Pennsylvania have applied for and are in the process of having online gaming licenses approved. While the twelve land based casinos do have the first chances to apply for these licenses, the fact that Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Lady Lucky Casino have still not applied for licenses leaves the opportunity open to other smaller casinos, waterway based casinos, or other national brands to come into Pennsylvania and apply for and obtain sports betting licenses. There could be a wide variety of companies and casinos that will be offering online sports betting. Either way, Pennsylvania stands to benefit greatly from the increased revenue that online gambling will bring to the state. With 12 million citizens of the state located outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the online sports gambling arena will give those millions of citizens and direct and immediate avenue to gambling. In addition to the online gaming and slot machines, the Supreme Court decision has opened up the opportunity to legalizing sports betting within the state. This will allow Pennsylvania to legitimize legal gambling on tap into the estimated $75-150 million illegal sports betting market bringing an immediate revenue injection to the state.

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Native Texan and graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law, and Harvard Business School. Quezada is currently an Associate Attorney with a law firm in Dallas, Texas, where he practices corporate immigration and represents some of the largest technology companies in Silicon Valley. Aside from participating in multiple fantasy football leagues, he is a regular DraftKings DFS player and also wagers on NFL, NCAA, NBA, and PGA Tour events. Beyond sports, Quezada also writes in the arenas of law, politics, and economics.