Pennsylvania is the up-and-comer in the gambling market, operating casinos, a lottery, and offering both onsite and OTB wagering on horse races.
Legal gaming began in Pennsylvania in 2004, allowing slot parlors to operate virtual lottery terminals (VLTs), which are centralized slots. Six years later the state expanded licensing to include poker. Currently there are 12 casinos throughout the state offering over 25,000 slots and 300 poker tables.
Those who wish to take their luck online may have to wait awhile. Online gambling is still illegal. But because legislators are making noise about expanding into this profitable market, you may soon see online poker, online slots, and fantasy sports.
Horse racing takes place at only two tracks, but wagering is available onsite and at off-track betting (OTB) venues. Sports betting, on the other hand, is a more difficult animal. There are no brick-and-mortar sports betting parlors. As a result, Pennsylvania residents must turn to available online sports sites that are legal.
Recent Pennsylvania legal gambling news
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Land-based slots environment
Pennsylvania is the success story of gambling in the last 10 years.
Until 2004, gambling in the Northeast was centered in Atlantic City. Delaware offered a few options, but Pennsylvanians (particularly those in Philadelphia) had to drive into “America’s Playground” to scratch their gambling itch.
However, in 2004, Pennsylvania’s legislature passed Act 71. As a result, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was created and they authorized the introduction of Class II gaming machines. These are slot-like machines fed by a master server. Consequently this is more like buying rapid-fire lottery tickets than true slot machines.
Licenses were granted to 14 slot parlors (although not all of them opened), and for six years, this was the state of gambling in Pennsylvania.
Then, in 2010, Pennsylvania expanded the licensing to include poker and blackjack. Since that time, Pennsylvania gaming revenue has exceeded $3 billion dollars each year, and 2016 was the biggest year yet. Twelve casinos are operating healthily in the state, and there are discussions about expanding further.
What’s more, Pennsylvania has become the state with the second-highest revenue from gambling. The success of Pennsylvania has been so profound that Atlantic City, once the only game in town, has seen year after year of reduction in its revenue. Not coincidentally, Atlantic City’s best year ever was 2005, just before the first slot parlors opened in the Granite State.
So, gambling is alive, well, and a big deal in Pennsylvania!
With regard to slot machines, Pennsylvania now offers over 25,000 machines for residents to play. Below are the 12 casinos and their maximum allowable amount of slot machines, which provides an idea of the size of each casino’s offerings.
Land-based slots options
|Property||Location||Maximum Number of Approved Slot Machines|
|The Meadows Racetrack and Casino||Washington||3,168|
|Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem||Bethlehem||3,013|
|Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack||Chester||2,800|
|Hollywood Casino at Penn National||Grantville||2,384|
|Mohegan Sun Pocono||Wilkes-Barre||2,332|
|Mount Airy Casino Resort||Mt. Pocono||1,868|
|Presque Isle Downs & Casino||Erie||1,588|
|Valley Forge Casino Resort||King of Prussia||600|
|Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin||Farmington||597|
Online gambling options
Pennsylvania does not have legal online gambling at this time, but that statement is likely to be inaccurate within 2017.
The wild success of gaming in the state and the resulting boost to the state’s coffers have only emboldened state legislators to further expand gambling in the state.
In fact, one prominent state senator, Marco Scavello, has confidence that an expansion bill will be law by March 2017.
There is speculation that this bill will not only legalize iGaming, but do the same for daily fantasy sports. Additionally, it may even allow gaming to occur at airports and other non-casino locations. Pennsylvania is poised to become the largest state with legal internet gambling.
Social casino site options
It would make sense that there would be some social casino options directly tied to Pennsylvania casinos. As it turns out, four of the casinos have free-to-play social sites. Parx, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Rivers Casino, and SugarHouse all offer slot machine options with daily free credits and giveaways.
Of the four, the most appealing option comes from SugarHouse. It offers two promotions that give players the chance to earn real-money prizes – a scratcher with a $20 Freeplay option and a $1,000 sweepstakes.
Additionally, SugarHouse has opened its online function for real-money play to New Jersey residents. This is an excellent way to further drive traffic and new customers to the Pennsylvania market.
Parx Casino & Racing
Parx Casino is the biggest and most successful of the dozen Pennsylvania casinos.
It began life as the Keystone Racetrack in 1974. It has since transitioned from a pure racetrack, to simulcast house, to a slot parlor known as PhillyPark, and finally settling as Parx in 2008.
Its proprietors are Bob Green and Bill Hogwood, both of whom hail from the UK. The two men have managed to provide a world-class casino venue.
Over 3,000 slots, 130 tables that offer blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, three-card poker, and four-card poker, and 80 poker tables wait for customers from the surrounding area – primarily from Philadelphia. Patrons also have eight restaurant or bar options, a dance club, and a sports bar to entertain themselves.
There are two parts of Parx’s offerings that warrant special attention. The first is its poker room, which is the largest in the state and collects the highest revenue in rake of any of the casinos.
If you surveyed poker players and asked them to name a Pennsylvania poker location, most would say Parx. The room hosts two tournament series, including a bona fide World Poker Tour stop in August (the WPT Parx Open Poker Classic) and a WPT-streamed monthlong series in February (Big Stax). Until 2015, its room ambassador was well-known poker pro Matt Glantz. So, there is no doubt that Parx is a worthy destination for many poker aficionados.
Another high-profile facet of Parx is its horseracing track.
A one-mile oval opened in 1974, the Parx Racetrack is the home of the Pennsylvania Derby. This is a Grade I race recently run by both Nyquist, the 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, and Exaggerator, the winner of the 2016 Preakness States.
In 2010, the race moved from its traditional scheduling on Labor Day to later in September. Therefore they can attract a stronger field of competitors looking to prepare for the Breeder’s Cup. The most recent purse for the race was $1.25 million dollars.
State legal environment
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-Based Gambling||Yes||At present, 12 licensed casinos operate in the state.|
|Online Gambling||No||Legalization likely in 2017|
|Lottery||Yes||Options include Pennsylvania State Lottery and multi-state Powerball and Mega Millions drawings.|
|Charitable or House-Based Gambling||Yes|
|Minimum Gambling Age||18 for pari-mutuel and horseracing; 21 for casinos|