One of the most discussed questions in the United States’ gaming industry is whether online gambling is legal in PA.
The state, which is the country’s second largest commercial casino state, took a deeper plunge into the world of online gambling in October 2017 when its lawmakers signed a gambling expansion bill into law. Among several other important developments for the gambling industry, the new law gave the green light for online gambling and sports betting.
The Keystone State remains to be one of the handful of states in the east coast that has made positive steps towards the establishment of a robust gambling industry in the past decade, something that officially kicked off with the inception of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) back in 2004. In fact, it is safe to say that the Commonwealth’s gaming industry has thrived since then but, as expected, it was eventually going to need to change with the times, hence the need for the gaming expansion law that has been in effect for just a little over a year.
How It Happened
Before we discuss whether or not online gambling is legal in PA, we need to have a clear roadmap of how exactly we got to this point. All of the things that the state’s gambling industry has to offer haven’t always been the way they are, but thanks to tons of regulatory amendments a lot of things have changed for the better.
Hope for gambling regulation and legalization were first raised when former Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell, won the state governorship and promised to push for more gambling laws in addition to allowing slot machines at racetracks. Two years later, in 2004, the Keystone State officially legalized several forms of gambling including slots, horse racing, and electronic table games – the PGCB also formed the same year in order to regulate and oversee the newly established gambling industry.
It was in 2010 that table games officially became legal in the Commonwealth and just like all the other existing forms of gambling in the state, it was put under the watchful eye of the PGCB. Laws established at the time allowed for the establishment of a maximum of 14 casinos across the entire state and up until now, only 12 have been fully operational with a 13th one set to launch in Stadium Park, Philadelphia.
For any question that goes along the lines of ‘is online gambling legal in PA?’, 2017 is always a great reference specifically because it is one of the most monumental periods for the state’s gambling industry and its economy as a whole. Following several months of debating on an expansive gambling bill, gamblers and casino operators in the state were treated to some great news when the bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf after being approved by the legislature.
The bill gave the green light for qualified gaming operators to offer online poker and online gambling services. In addition to that, it allowed for the establishment of a decent number of satellite casinos, the introduction of video gambling terminals as well as the entry of daily fantasy sports providers into the Pennsylvanian market. So, in essence, the state officially legalized online gambling in October 2017.
However, there is so much more to the story.
The Pennsylvania Lottery has been around for decades and in that period, it was a major revenue driver for the state. This particular vertical has had such a great run that it was definitely not going to be left out of the state’s gambling expansion plans. True to that, in 2018, the Pennsylvania Lottery expanded its portfolio of games to include iLottery, Keno as well as virtual sports. As expected, the move went quite well with the online lottery games producing very huge revenue boosts after they were launched. Some of these games include:
- Super Gems
- Cash in the Lamp
- Robin Hood
- Foxin’ Wins
- Ballroom Bingo
- Monster Wins
- Volcano Eruption
- Super Cash Buster
- Big Money Slingo
All these iLottery games were launched in partnership with renowned gaming solutions provider Scientific Games Corporation and are available both online and on mobile. The games are open to anyone who is 18 years or older and is located within the state’s borders – the lottery verifies the ages of the participants through their government-IDs or social security numbers.
In many ways, the online lottery games being offered by the Pennsylvania Lottery are the pioneers in the online gaming vertical and they are paving way for the eventual launch of online casinos, sports betting and mobile gambling in 2019.
Legal Online Casinos in Pennsylvania
The initial launch of online gambling in the Commonwealth stretched out through 2018 right after the state gaming control board laid out a few regulations to kick things off in terms of licensing. At first, most of the licensed land-based casino operators in that state were dissuaded from applying for the licenses once the PGCB started accepting applications and this was primarily because of the very high tax rates and licensing fees.
However, most of them eventually came around after acknowledging that such an opportunity was too good to miss out on. Due to this, the state raked in millions in the initial licensing process, something that may be an indication of even greater things to come when the online and mobile casinos finally go live.
The licensing process was carried out in two phases with the initial phase being when the PGCB offered a discounted $10 million-license for online poker, table games, and slots. The casinos that applied for this included:
- Parx Casino (operated by Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment)
- Mount Airy (operated by Mount Airy LLC)
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem (operated by Sands Bethworks Gaming LLC)
- Hollywood Casino at Penn Nation Race Course (operated by Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association/Penn National Gaming)
- Valley Forge Casino (operated by Valley Forge Convention Center Partners)
- Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack (operated Chester Downs and Marina)
- SugarHouse Casino (operated by Rush Street Interactive)
During the second phase, the brick-and-mortar casino licensees were allowed to submit individual license applications for each of the online gaming verticals and these were going for $4 million apiece. The following operators applied and have since been approved:
- Presque Isle Downs
- Mohegan Sun Pocono
- Stadium Casino LLC
This brings the total number of legal online casinos in PA casinos to 10 which is definitely not a bad number especially considering that the state only has 13 licensed casino operators. The other operators that gamblers can rest assured will be offering some sort of online gambling service in Pennsylvania are the so-called ‘qualified gaming entities’ that happened to be two non-Pennsylvania casinos. They are:
- Golden Nugget
Is Online Sports Gambling Legal in PA?
Pennsylvanian residents can now place sports wagers at six sportsbooks (Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Parx, The Turf Club, SugarHouse, Harrah’s, and Rivers Casino) and so far, they have posted rather satisfactory results in as far as revenue is concerned. Fortunately, most of these sports betting operators also applied for online betting licenses which means that online sports betting in the Keystone State is going to be a reality very soon.
Online and mobile sports betting are particularly getting quite a lot of attention because they are expected to elevate the current state of the Commonwealth’s sports gambling industry which, arguably, has not been performing very well. All in all, punters in the Commonwealth can look forward to a plethora of outstanding gaming options including the ability to place bets on major US sporting events as well as sports from many other parts of the world.
What About the Wire Act?
In January 2019, the United States Department of Justice announced a new interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act, a move that was rather controversial particularly because it made all forms of cross-state border online gambling illegal. Naturally, being one of the states that are set to launch an online gambling offering in the near future, Pennsylvania was bound to question the new opinion – in fact, some of the state’s officials even attempted to contest the issue in a court of law.
Generally speaking, the outlook of the online gambling industry in the United States has been quite unclear since the new Wire Act opinion was announced. Now, the question has shifted from “Is online gambling legal in PA” to “Which forms of online gambling are affected by the new Wire Act opinion?“.
This is a reasonable inquisition especially because some gamblers were looking forward to some aspects of interstate gambling such as shared liquidity poker pools – while online poker will be totally legal within the state’s borders, the new opinion has outlawed interstate gambling.
Does It Matter?
Well, it certainly does. A lot of things hang on the eventual implementation of the Wire Act and thus it is very important to understand its legal implications.
Pennsylvania is the second largest commercial casino state, and it will certainly be able to host a fully operational online gaming industry. Even so, the legal and regulated online gambling scene in the state is definitely much better off with the previous (2011) Wire Act opinion. Still, regardless of how it goes, we are pretty confident that gamblers in the Keystone State will still be able to enjoy the best that its online gaming industry has to offer.