Pennsylvania Real Money Online Gambling Guide
Various states take different approaches to gambling, anywhere from not approving it in any form like Utah and Hawaii to the wide open gambling frontier of Nevada. Pennsylvania is very close to the permissive edge on this scale, not quite up to Las Vegas standards but they have put together a decent amount of casino gambling already, with more expected in the coming years.
It is one thing to have a decent number of land-based casinos as Pennsylvania does, and another to ensure that the people’s appetite for gambling is reasonably served, While Pennsylvania could do more to put more land-based casinos within easier reach of more of the state’s people, nothing compares to opening up gambling like offering regulated online gambling. This is how Pennsylvania has really expanded their reach lately.
We’ll take you on a little tour of the state’s gambling to bring you completely up to speed on how well Pennsylvania is doing and what else they may do to make this way above average gambling scene even better.
History of Gambling in Pennsylvania
Like with many states, the first legal gambling in Pennsylvania was to allow their residents to bet on horse races, which for some reason has been more culturally acceptable than other forms of gambling, including even the lottery. The fact that betting on horses is fundamentally a game of skill in contrast to games of chance played with a mathematical disadvantage matters to some, but government decisions on gambling often come down to lobbying, and the horse racing industry has successfully lobbied many states to permit horse race betting decades before they allowed any other form whatsoever.
Pennsylvania did not have anywhere near as big a gap as some states, with the Race Horse Industry Reform Act being passed in 1959 and the bill to establish the state lottery passing in 1971. The Pennsylvania Lottery was established to provide property tax relief for its residents, which is a sure way to get people to agree to allow it due to both the scope and specificity of its benefits.
The 1980’s saw a fairly big push by the state government to allow for real money casinos in Pennsylvania, but there was too much pushback at the time from those who were concerned that casinos would covet crime, especially since this was during a time where big casinos had a reputation for ties with organized crime.
Pennsylvania did manage to legalize off-track race horse betting during this decade though, in 1988, which was a good sign that things were at least still on the right track when it came to opening up gambling more in the state.
Proponents of legal casino gambling continued to push for this in the 1990’s, this time seeking to have riverboat gambling in the state approved. This idea got quashed as well, by way of the continuing concern about its possible increase in crime, although the idea that whatever new crime that may result would surely reduce illegal gambling proportionately and the entire legal operation would have to be run by criminals to not see a net reduction in crime from this.
A bill to authorize a limited number of slot machines was proposed in 1999, but failed to get enough support. It was slated to be voted on in a referendum, but it was never held. Finally, in 2004, the state finally legalized casinos and gambling really took off in Pennsylvania.
Casino operators became more corporate, and over the years the reluctance to offer real money casino gambling dissipated, and casino gambling became very successful in the state in time. Pennsylvania also joined Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware as the fourth state to legalize online gambling, which was passed in 2017.
By way of its increasing willingness to embrace gambling, Pennsylvania has now risen to have the second largest gambling revenue among states, passing New Jersey and now only behind Nevada.
Pennsylvania Gambling Laws
Pennsylvania’s approach to outlawing gambling in their state has always been confined to making the offering or promoting of gambling illegal and has never targeted the act of gambling itself. While such a thing may lead to a lesser reluctance among the gambling public to participate, this has never been seen as a sufficient justification to seek to charge players, and there is an ideological difference between pursuing operators and players.
Pennsylvania law makes it a crime to possess “any device used for gambling purposes, except playing cards.” The first thing that should jump out at us is that the law doesn’t prevent people gambling all they want provided they just use cards to do it, but this goes further and does not prohibit gambling at all per se.
This does not mean that the people cannot be arrested in conjunction with gambling, but the crime would be possessing the illegal gambling device, offering space to be used for illegal gambling, or promoting it in any way.
The law also prohibits the operation of any video gambling machine that simulate real money gambling but provide other consideration of any form. There is a special section prohibiting having gambling machines on sailing vessels, with the goal being to prohibit unauthorized gambling devices in the state unless otherwise permitted.
Whether or not you could run afoul of the law by running a home game depends on the devices used, where if you play cards for money this does not involve using an illegal gambling device, but if you were playing craps with dice you could be arrested for both hosting and even promoting such a game, where you could be charged even prior to the game taking place.
As far as the legality of gambling at offshore real money online casinos, there are some states where it may at least not be all that clear whether using a computing device to gamble would fall under a state’s definition of an illegal gambling device, although upon closer consideration of the law, these devices generally are not covered due to the fact that they are not really gambling devices but instead devices that may be used for gambling in addition to a great number of other purposes.
However, Pennsylvania criminal law, even though it prohibits devices used for gambling purposes, and gambling online on either your computer or mobile device would indeed use these devices for gambling purposes, the prohibition here is to provide such a device to others, the crime is to allow “persons to collect and assemble for the purposes of unlawful gambling at any place under his control.”
This therefore is aimed purely at operating gambling enterprises, and if you had the only computer on the block and you invited your neighbors to come over to gamble on it, this at least might be against the law, if this is understood to qualify as setting up a gambling device by logging into a real money online casino and then making this gambling available to others.
There isn’t even anything in the criminal law at least that would make operating an online gambling operation out if Pennsylvania a crime, but this is prevented through another means, licensure. You require a license to operate a business, and regulation differs from criminal law insofar as criminal law revokes permission and licensure requires it.
The bottom line for players is that there is nothing in Pennsylvania criminal statutes that prohibit gambling at all, and unless you aspire to be a gambling operator, this law doesn’t apply to you at all. Both land-based gambling and online gambling are now legal in Pennsylvania anyway now, so people not only can gamble legally but can gamble at licensed venues as well where everyone is fully in compliance with the law.
Land-Based Gambling in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania features a full menu of land-based gambling options, including playing the state lottery, betting on horses at one of its racetracks and through one of its off-track betting facilities, and both betting on horses and playing casino games at one of the state’s racinos. Residents may also gamble at one of the state’s stand-alone casinos, resort casinos, or satellite casinos, or gamble online at one of the state regulated real money online gambling sites.
You don’t beat a state like New Jersey in gambling revenue without having a completely open gambling regulatory environment as they do, and it’s only due to the massive gambling tourism that Nevada has, with all their big resort casinos, that has them behind Nevada, as all three of these states how offer a full card of gambling options.
Pennsylvania features 6 racinos, horse racing tracks that offer casino gambling as well as other amenities, but these are not just some slot machines being made available at a racetrack like they have in some states, as these are real casinos as well, offering a full range of casino gaming including a lot of real money table games.
Harrah’s, for instance, is not in the horse racing business but built a racetrack outside Philadelphia so they could offer casino games, and this racino has 100,000 feet worth of gaming space in addition to everything else they offer. The Meadows Racetrack and Casino has an even bigger casino, with 350,000 square feet of gaming space, making it one of the biggest casinos in the country period.
The Mohegan Sun Pocano is on the smaller side as far as its gaming space with only 85,000 square feet, but still offer a full range of casino gambling as well as being the first casino in the state to offer real money sports betting, which is now also offered elsewhere. The Hollywood Casino at Penn National is also on the smaller side, but made a splash of their own when they were the first licensed online gambling operator in the state, which has also since expanded.
Parx Casino and Racing is a good sized combination of racing and casino gambling with 150,000 square feet of gambling space. The Presque Isle Downs and Casino is the smallest and most limited of the bunch, but they do offer 1,500 slots and have a sports book under construction.
Pennsylvania also offers 4 stand alone casinos. The Wind Creek Bethlehem is the largest one with 139,000 square feet of gaming space, with the rest being comparatively smaller, including the Mount Airy Casino Resort, the Rivers Casino in Philadelphia, and the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
The Live! Casino Philadelphia is currently under construction and will bring the total of stand-alone casinos to 5 when built. Pennsylvania also has 2 designated resort casinos, where you have to stay at the place to be allowed to gamble at them, and 4 smaller satellite casinos which are used to fill some of the gaps.
In spite of all this, it is estimated that the size of the black market is in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and is big enough that the state lottery estimates that they lose $200 million per year in revenue to illegal gambling. Pennsylvania has a very strong appetite for gambling these days, and its people are well served one way or another.
Pennsylvania Online Casinos & Slots Gambling
The reason why illegal gambling exists is because there are situations where people wish to gamble but cannot do so conveniently enough by using legal means. Even though a state may have real money casinos sprinkled throughout it, this may involve a fairly long drive for some and closer options may be preferable, where slots may be more in reach in spite of them not being hosted at a licensed and legal establishment.
Online gambling being widely available does go a long way to fill this gap. It’s not that the experience of playing real money casino games online completely replicates the land-based casino experience, and the idea that the expansion of online gambling crippling land-based venues is a myth that has been well disproven.
This concern from land-based operators still exists as a significant impediment to online gambling legislation, from the operators continuing to successfully lobby governments to steer clear of it, put Pennsylvania has since seen the light. It’s not that the state has finally legalized online gambling, as there have never been any legal restrictions on people gambling online like there is in some states, either clear restrictions or ones that may be understood to serve to restrict it.
What Pennsylvania has done is license online gambling and allowed residents to gamble online at high quality state regulated sites, instead of being limited to offshore sites in a market where most of the very good ones have exited the U.S. market in states that do not regulate it, where some of these sites are reputable enough but some are of an undesirable quality.
Online players simply prefer that their state regulate the online gambling sites that they play at rather than some international body, and domestic regulation by its very nature tends to be more robust since domestic regulators hold them to stricter standards generally. This is not the issue many players think it is since it is so rare that a site with a reputable business model will run afoul of regulators, and this is almost always confined to more rogue sites that can be avoided just by being in the know, but there are psychological benefits involved here to be sure.
An even bigger benefit comes from domestic online gambling regulation, and this has to do with the fear that operators have of the UIGEA which prohibits the processing of illegal gambling transactions. If your online gambling is regulated in the United States, this removes that issue and you can now deposit and withdrawal with anything that the site accepts, including credit cards, which opens up the door completely to unfettered real money online casino gambling.
Online poker players in Pennsylvania can even play at PokerStars again, and where online poker is concerned, size really matters, and PokerStars is by far the biggest name in the business. When you are playing against a computer like you do with an online casino, this doesn’t even matter, but with online poker sites, you need enough players there to be able to play the games you want at the stakes you prefer. Many online poker tables wish to play many tables at once, and you can’t do this as well at a smaller site.
In addition to PokerStars, Pennsylvania offers 4 regulated online casino sites, the FanDuel Online Casino, the DraftKings Online Casino, the Unibet Online Casino, and the Hollywood Online Casino. FanDuel, DraftKings, and Unibet also offer online sports betting, in addition to FoxBet Online Sportsbook PA and SugarHouse Online Sportsbook PA.
There are plenty of good options to gamble online in Pennsylvania without ever having to gamble at an offshore site, and Pennsylvania is well situated to continue to see its gambling scene grow, especially on the online side.
The Future of Gambling in Pennsylvania
Given that all forms of gambling are now legal in Pennsylvania, including sports betting and online gambling, the task now becomes to allow for an expansion of the current gambling that is now being offered. Pennsylvania isn’t exactly wide open as far as allowing the free market to reign, and this is why they still have a huge problem with illegal gambling.
Pennsylvania is still working on closing the gap between regulated constraint and market efficiency, albeit with a healthy dose of protectionism, caving in to lobbying essentially, which is the only reason why governments would seek to restrain trade since neither the government nor the market benefits by keeping revenue muted.
The 2017 bill that legalized sports betting also allowed for an additional 10 satellite casinos provided that they restrain their size to 750 slot machines and 30 gaming tables and are also located more than 25 miles from another casino, with only current casino license owners being allowed to apply.
We don’t normally limit businesses like this, for instance passing a law that a city can only have so many restaurants and that they need to be located a certain distance from one another, and this clearly demonstrates that as liberal as Pennsylvania is compared to just about every other state, gambling is still being treated quite differently than other businesses.
Regulation works properly when it focuses on maintaining minimum and reasonable standards and allows the participation of anyone that is able to maintain these standards, and Pennsylvania’s regulatory framework with gambling still has a long way to go to mature. They have made great deal of progress indeed over the last few years though and this should continue as politicians gain a better understanding of how being in the gambling business is no different than other forms other than perhaps a greater need for diligent oversight.
Pennsylvania also may need to address their outrageously high tax rates on gambling revenues, currently set at a whopping 34%. This is about 5 times higher than typical tax rates which generally run in the single digits. The concern here is that this may serve as a real impediment to any major expansion of the market, where operations may actually need the protectionism and market restraint that the state government is insisting on, but this will limit new entrants on both counts and keep the market from expanding in a way that would be of benefit to everyone, including the state’s tax coffers.
However, we cannot forget that the skies are considerably brighter than in just about every other state when it comes to gambling here, but Pennsylvania needs to avoid becoming smug and the true measure of their success in satisfying the gambling market is how well they actually manage it. Pennsylvania has gotten a lot closer to the ideal, but there are still miles to go. Pennsylvania could easily pass Nevada in gaming revenue if they wanted, and going forward, we’ll have to see if they do.
Pennsylvania Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
What forms of legal gambling are available in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania residents are presented with a full menu of gambling options. This state offers people access to the state lottery both by purchasing tickets in person as well as online. They offer betting on horse races both at the track and through off-track betting facilities. People can gamble at a full range of casino games, both slots and table games, both at land-based casinos and online. You can visit a land-based poker room or play at PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker site. You can bet on sports both at physical locations and online.
What gambling activities are illegal in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania’s criminal law is completely focused on the operational side of gambling, including hosting illegal gambling, promoting it in any way, or even offering space to be used for this purpose. Oddly enough, gambling with cards is excluded and you could in theory open up a public card room without authorization and not be breaking the law although you still would need a business license which you wouldn’t get. There are no laws against participating in gambling in Pennsylvania though.
How does Pennsylvania compare to other permissive states such as Nevada and New Jersey?
Pennsylvania has gone from a minor state as far as gambling goes, with only a lottery and a handful of racetracks you could bet on horses at, to now only being behind Nevada in terms of gambling revenue. Pennsylvania also has joined the other two big gambling states in offering gambling in every form now, including land-based casinos and sports betting, as well as online casino, sports betting, and poker. Pennsylvania has now joined the big time.
Why are the biggest casinos in Pennsylvania hosted by horse racing tracks?
Just like is often the case in political contests, the incumbents have a natural advantage, and this is the case with incumbent gambling operations as well. The racetracks had the home field advantage and also were at the front of the line when it came to trying to push the state government into changing its views on casino gambling. It’s also easier to build on to existing gambling facilities than build new ones, and players are also given more variety as you can’t bet on the ponies at a stand-alone casino.
Can people gamble at both slots and table games at Pennsylvania casinos?
It isn’t really clear why some states favor slots over casino table games this much, as if they were worried about limiting problem gambling, it’s the playing of slots that are subject to more abuse. Pennsylvania does not make this distinction though and has always been completely open to allowing both types of casino gambling in all cases, even with their smallest licenses which limit how much gaming a casino can offer the most. As enjoyable as people find slots to be, others really enjoy playing casino table games and Pennsylvania does not discriminate against them.
How is Pennsylvania restricting the land-based casino market in the state?
Pennsylvania is one of the biggest states in the country in terms of population but the number of casinos that they have remains quite limited, where there are only a total of 12 in the state. There is clearly a market for more, but only one more has been granted a license and much of the slack is taken up by illegal gambling terminals. In order to really open this up, they need to grant as many licenses as the market will bear and not protect current operators as much as they do to the detriment of the market overall.
Can you gamble online legally in Pennsylvania?
It has always been the case that people in Pennsylvania could gamble online as much as they wished, as there is no law in Pennsylvania against any form of gambling, including online gambling. The only thing you could not do is gamble at a real money online site that was regulated by the state of Pennsylvania, although in 2019, the state passed a bill that changed all that. Players can now enjoy state regulated online gambling sites that they can easily deposit and withdraw at.
What types of real money online gambling are available to Pennsylvania residents?
Just like with land-based gambling, Pennsylvania has approached their online gambling regulation with a view to serve the market without prejudice, not viewing some forms as more desirable than others and choosing a path of exclusion. Some states may be more open to poker or sports betting and not be too fond of casino games, but in Pennsylvania, you can gamble on all three forms of betting online, and can even buy lottery tickets online, something a lot of states don’t allow.
What are the benefits of state regulated real money online gambling?
While domestic regulators downplay offshore gambling regulation and usually just pretend it does not exist, regulation plays a minimal role in online gambling, and virtually all of the regulation that occurs with is the self-regulation that the internet itself provides. Ironically, there is a lot more graft in domestic gambling regulation due to the political aspect of it, which international regulation avoids. However, there is a big benefit of domestic regulation in the United States, given that it allows players more and better options to transact financially with sites.
How can Pennsylvania improve their gambling scene?
What is holding back gambling in Pennsylvania and in the country in general from expanding faster than it has is the fact that the wheels of democracy are greased by political contributions. Smaller contributions from the public don’t have a price tag attached, but the larger ones are made quid pro quo. This has caused an environment where existing interests are favored at the expense of serving the market. Pennsylvania has come a long way but still needs to do a better job of putting both the interests of the people and the state ahead of these special interests.