The landscape for gaming in the state of Pennsylvania has changed a lot over the last decade. Once a state that opposed any type of casino gaming, Pennsylvania now has over a dozen legal casinos for locals to play slot machines and table games.
There are no legal places in the state for bettors to place sports bets, but the lack of laws against sports betting make for a relatively safe environment for offshore betting online. Pennsylvania’s success in recent years with its new casinos could lead to more expansion to gambling laws in the state in years to come.
Gaming Laws in Pennsylvania
In 1991, Mayer Ed Rendell’s proposal to allow riverboat gambling in the city of Philadelphia was voted down in the House of Representatives. In 1993, the mayor appointed at 16-member commission to study the benefits and risks of legalizing gambling in the city.
It wasn’t until July 2004 that the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act was passed. This law legalized slot machines and table games in the state of Pennsylvania when establishments were granted authority by the newly formed Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
In 2006, a handful of stand-alone casinos and current race tracks were authorized to begin construction on gambling establishments that would allow conventional casino games. Slot machines and video poker machines started to roll out at these locations by 2009, and most of them were approved to roll out table games by 2010.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was given the authority to issue up to 14 licenses for slot machines across the state, selecting five stand-alone locations, seven existing race tracks and two existing resorts. The casinos can hold up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games while the resorts are limited to 600 slot machines and 50 table games.
Sports Betting in Pennsylvania
As far as sports betting in the United States goes, there aren’t many states in the country more lax on the issue legally than Pennsylvania. There are harsh laws in place against bookmaking as the state charges the offense as a first degree misdemeanor for “occupying any place for the purpose of receiving, recording or registering bets or wagers”.
But there is no mention in Pennsylvania state law of it being a crime to place a bet; it is only mentioned as a crime to book one. The state even passed a law in 2013 legalizing sports pools in which the entry amount is $20 or less and there are less than 100 entrants to put players who participate in office pools at ease.
In addition to there being no laws against placing bets on sports in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, there is also no mention of internet gaming. While sportsbooks can not be run in the state of Pennsylvania, no current state laws prohibit players from using an offshore sportsbook to place their sports bets. No arrests or charges have ever been brought against a player for betting online, and there is no precedent to suggest that this will be a problem for Pennsylvania residents in the future.
Poker and Casino in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania currently has six stand-alone casinos and six “racinos”. A racino is a location in which bettors can watch and bet on live and telecast horse racing as well as standard casino games such as poker, table games and slot machines. The Live! Hotel and Casino is currently under development and is expected to open in Philadelphia in 2016.
Each of the current stand-alone casinos offer common casino games like the racinos, and many of them have resorts and restaurants as well. The SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia made Philadelphia the largest city in the country with casino gambling in 2010, passing Detroit as the previous largest city.
Poker players have access to live cash games and tournaments at a handful of locations thanks to Pennsylvania’s casino scene. But for those players that want even more action, online poker at offshore poker rooms is another option.
Pennsylvania doesn’t currently offer any online poker options, but it also does not prohibit players from playing online nor does it make any mention of poker specifically as an activity that state residents can not participate in. No Pennsylvania resident has been charged for playing poker online at offshore casinos.
Other Gaming Options in Pennsylvania
Before the big influx of casinos over the last decade, Pennsylvania bettors were mostly limited to the race tracks and lottery. Pennsylvania has four race tracks with standard horse races and two race tracks with harness racing.
The Pennsylvania Lottery was formed on August 26 in 1971 and was rolled out with its first drawing on March 15, 1972. Lottery bettors in Pennsylvania can play both local games and multi-state games such as Powerball and Mega Millions. One popular local game is the biannual Millionaire Raffle; tickets cost $20 each and four $1,000,000 are selected randomly.