Pennsylvania is the up-and-comer in the gambling market, operating casinos, a lottery, and offering both onsite and OTB wagering on horse races. And, as of October 2017, online gambling is legal in Pennsylvania.
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.
Horse racing takes place at only two tracks, but wagering is available onsite and at off-track betting (OTB) venues.
Those who wish to take their luck online may not have to wait too long.
In October 2017, Pennsylvania became the fourth state in the US to allow online gambling. Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law an expansive gaming package that will authorize online slots, online poker, online table games, daily fantasy sports, sports betting (pending a change in federal law), VGTs, and more.
The market for legal online gambling is expected to go live in the second half of 2018.
Recent Pennsylvania legal gambling news
MGM Springfield, Hard Rock Atlantic City, Live! Casino Philadelphia, and Resorts World Catskills aren’t open yet, but they’ve got big plans for 2018.
The acquisition of Pinnacle Entertainment by Penn National will have major ramifications for land-based and online gaming in the US.
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|
Legal online gambling options in PA
The Pennsylvania Senate passed H 271, the state’s gaming expansion package, on Oct. 25, 2017. The next day, the PA House passed H 271 as well.
We expect that sites will be up and running in the second part of 2018. It will take some months for regulations to be established, licenses to be applied for and granted, and for sites to do the requisite pre-launch testing.
PA players will have a slew of choices when it comes to games; blackjack, roulette, poker, video poker, Pai Gow, craps, slots, and more will be on offer once the industry goes live in Pennsylvania. Online lottery sales will also be available.
Additionally, Pennsylvania players will have access to regulated daily fantasy sports. If PASPA, the federal law prohibiting sports betting, falls as a result of the New Jersey sports betting case or is otherwise repealed, Pennsylvania would also offer this form of wagering to residents.
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||Yes||Legislation passed in October 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, horseracing, and DFS; 21 for casinos and online gambling|