Pennsylvania has experienced a quick rise in the gambling world. After
legalizing casinos and racinos in 2004, they have now earned over $3 billion
from 13 casinos.
Thanks to high casino taxes, the state collects over $1.4 billion in annual
tax revenue – highest of any American casino market.
Gambling is big business in the Keystone State, and they’re looking for ways
to increase this business. The most discussed option right now is regulated
online gambling. The exciting thing is that Pennsylvania is close to legalizing
the activity at the time of this writing.
So, what are your Internet gambling options in the meantime?
This is one question that we’ll answer while covering Pennsylvania’s online
Pennsylvania’s criminal code doesn’t mention online gambling or any related
terms like “Internet” or “computer.”
This leaves their Internet gambling market in a grey area-one that’s served
by many offshore operators. Going further, you can access a number of online
casinos, poker rooms and sportsbooks from Pennsylvania.
Of course, just because offshore gambling is available doesn’t mean it’s
legal. This is why we’re going to take a deeper look at Pennsylvania’s gaming
Is Online Gambling Legal in Pennsylvania?
No, but it’s not explicitly illegal either.
The Pennsylvania Constitution doesn’t offer a definition of illegal gambling.
Instead, their criminal code is mainly focused on illegal operators – especially
those offering lottery games.
Code 5513 is the closest thing that could be used to pursue offshore gambling
operators. Here are a few excerpts from this law, which lays out first-degree
(2) “… allows persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of
unlawful gambling at any place under his control.”
(3) “… solicits or invites any person to visit any unlawful gambling
place for the purpose of gambling.”
These statutes are aimed at illegal land-based gambling businesses. They can
also be used against offshore gaming sites if Pennsylvania feels the need to do
In summary, we don’t see anything too damning against Internet gambling. This
is why offshore operators continue to offer services to Quaker State residents.
How Close is Pennsylvania to Legalizing Internet Gambling?
At the time of this writing, Pennsylvania is very close to regulating
The Keystone State’s legislative efforts dates back to 2013, when House
Representative Tina Davis introduced a bill to legalize online poker. This
legislation didn’t go very far, but it did get the ball rolling.
2015 saw another advancement when the House Gaming Oversight Committee passed
HB 649 by an 18 to 8 vote. The State House, however, rejected the legislation by
an 81 to 107 vote.
In 2016, HB 649 passed the State House by a 114 to 85 vote, but the State
Senate elected not to vote on the bill before their session ended.
Currently, two bills are on the table in SB 900 and HB 271. Here’s a closer
look at both pieces of legislation:
SB 900 – Sponsored by State
Senators Kim Ward, Joseph Scarnati and Elder Vogel, this bill would legalize
online casino and poker games. The tax rate is 54% though, and the licensing fee
is $10 million for 5 years. The 54% tax rate will scare many potential operators
HB 271 – Another bill that
would regulate online casino games and poker, this legislation has passed the
Senate Appropriations Committee (24 to 2 vote), Senate Community Economic &
Recreational Development Committee (11 to 3 vote), State Senate (38 to 12 vote)
and State House (102 to 89 vote). The House lowered the tax rate (also 54%), and
the Senate must now vote to see if they approve.
Considering that the State House and Senate have both passed iGaming
legislation, it’s obvious that the state is in favor of the activity.
This is the case especially when considering that they must be creative about
finding ways to fund their $32 billion budget plan. The biggest hang up, though,
is the enormous tax rate.
If they can get this aspect settled, then it won’t be long before
Pennsylvania has regulated iGaming.
Can I Get Arrested for Gambling Online in Pennsylvania?
It’s very unlikely that you will be – if not downright impossible.
Pennsylvania’s criminal code doesn’t include any language that would result
in prosecution solely for playing online casino or poker games.
The one way this will change, though, is if Pennsylvania legalizes online
This would make it perfectly legal to play at licensed online casinos and
poker sites, but the state government would almost assuredly ban residents from
playing at offshore gaming sites.
We’ve yet to see any of the states with regulated iGaming markets (Delaware,
Nevada, New Jersey) arrest anybody for offshore gaming. Then again, all three
states have also banned offshore companies and made it clear that they won’t
tolerate these sites operating in their boundaries.
Are Offshore Gaming Sites Safe?
We see Pennsylvania legalizing online gambling in the near future. Until this
happens, your best option is offshore sites.
The key is making sure that you only choose reputable sites that offer good
customer service and longevity. The latter aspect is especially important so you
know that the company operates honestly enough to stay in business.
Here are a few other key factors you want to look for in an offshore gaming
Deposit options that you can use.
24/7 customer service with live chat.
Good game variety.
Limited customer complaints (google for complaints).
Favorable bonus terms & conditions – the lower the bonus wagering
requirements, the better.
Fair gaming with no major scandals.
Remember that offshore gaming companies aren’t licensed in the U.S., so they
don’t adhere to laws in unregulated states.
This makes it important to read reviews and do your research to make sure
that you’re signing up with a quality operator. If it makes you feel better, the
majority of offshore sites are reputable and value repeat business.
The Racehorse Development and Gaming Act of 2004 allows for legal commercial
casinos, racinos and slots parlors in Pennsylvania.
The Keystone Stone has experienced major success with their casino market,
pulling in over $1.4 billion in tax revenue annually.
They’ve also managed to keep many of their residents from traveling to New
Jersey and other destinations for gambling. While this has been detrimental to
Atlantic City, it’s kept billions of tax dollars in state over the years.
Pennsylvania has video gaming in its bars, nightclubs and restaurants. These
are only Class II gaming machines, though, meaning they must determine results
through virtual bingo cards.
Aside from having a predetermined number of prizes, Class II gaming is
similar to slot machines in commercial casinos.
Charitable Gambling: Legal
The Small Games of Chance Act sets forth laws and regulations for charity
This act allows approved groups to generate revenue through bingo, drawings,
pull tabs, punchboards, raffles and weekly drawings.
Eligible groups must advance one or more of the following causes:
Combat juvenile delinquency.
Helping the aged, distressed and/or poor.
Improving mental, physical or spiritual aspects of young men and women,
such as the YMCA and YWCA.
Offering humane services.
Volunteer ambulance, firefighter, rescue squad, senior and wildlife
Approved in 1971, Pennsylvania has one of America’s biggest lotteries,
pulling in over $4 billion in annual revenue.
Available games include: Big 4, Cash 5, Daily Number, Mega Millions and
Powerball. They also feature scratch off/instant tickets, which are their
Pennsylvania has several poker rooms throughout the state, and they offer
over 260 tables combined.
Available poker games include: 7 card stud, 7 card stud Hi Lo, mixed games,
Omaha, Omaha Hi Lo and no limit Texas holdem.
The Coal State has six racetracks, including Harrah’s Philadelphia, Hollywood
Casino (off track), Meadows Racetrack, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Parx Casino
and Racing and Presque Isle Downs and Casino.
Thanks to the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, all of these venues can
offer slot machines.
Social Gambling: Not Specified
Pennsylvania’s gambling laws don’t offer a definitive statement on social
Code 5513 (2) does contain the following excerpt though:
“… allows persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of unlawful
gambling at any place under his control.”
This would technically make hosting a social gambling function illegal, but
without a concrete definition on illegal gambling, it’s hard to make this
Pennsylvania charged Diane Dent and Walter Watkins with holding illegal poker
games in their garage. Dent received tips while working as the dealer, which was
one of the biggest issues.
Despite the voluntary dealer tips, Judge Thomas A. James Jr. acquitted Dent
and Watkins as he ruled that poker is skill based game.
Pennsylvania will bust an illegal gambling function where the host is
profiting through rake and/or by selling food and drinks. You’re most likely
safe to engage in social gambling here, provided everything is legal.
Gambling Venues in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has one of the largest casino gambling markets in the world with
over 29,000 gaming machines and 1,100 table games.
Their biggest gaming venue is Parx Casino and Racing, which has over 3,500
slot machines and 130 table games. The second largest is Sands Bethlehem with
more than 3,000 gaming machines and 180 table games.
Below, you can see details on these casinos and others in the Pennsylvania
1) Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack
777 Harrah’s Boulevard, Chester, Pennsylvania
2) Hollywood Casino & Off Track Betting
777 Hollywood Boulevard, Grantville, Pennsylvania
3) Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin
4067 National Pike, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
4) Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia
900 Packer Avenue Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
5) Meadows Racetrack & Casino
210 Racetrack Road Washington, Pennsylvania
6) Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
7) Mount Airy Casino Resort
312 Woodland Road, Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania
8) Parx Casino and Racing
2999 Street Road, Bensalem, Pennsylvania
9) Presque Isle Downs & Casino
8199 Perry Highway, Erie, Pennsylvania
10) Rivers Casino
777 Casino Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
11) Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
12) SugarHouse Casino
1001 North Delaware, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
13) Valley Forge Casino Resort
1160 First Avenue King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
History of Gambling in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania had a quiet gambling history until 2004, when the Racehorse
Development and Gaming Act approved casinos, racinos and slots parlors.
Since then, Pennsylvania has had 12 casinos spring up in their state.
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs became the first casino to launch in the Quaker
State. Nine more gambling venues would open over the next three years alone.
One thing that’s currently missing from Pennsylvania’s gambling history,
though, includes legalizing online gaming. With several legislative attempts in
recent years, this should come very soon.
Lottery games approved.
Penn National Race Court opens.
Racehorse Development and Gaming Act passed, allowing commercial casino, racinos, and slots parlors.
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs opens in Novewmber, becoming Pennsylvania’s first casino; Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack opens the following month.
Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack, Presque Isle Downs and Casino, Meadows Racetrack and Casino, and Mount Airy Casino open.
Hollywood Casino at Penn Nation becomes seventh casino to open.
Sands Bethlehem Casino and Rivers Casino both open.
Gov. Ed Rendall approves legislation to allow table games at casinos.
House Rep. Tina Davis introduces bill to legalize Internet gambling.
Parx Casino and GameAccount Network launch play money gaming site.
Four pieces of iGaming legislation are introduced, but none are approved.
HB 649, a bill to legalize Internet casino and poker games, passes Senate by a 114 to 85 vote, it fails to receive a vote during the House’s session.
HB 271 (legal online casino/poker games) passes State House and Sentate, the Senate must agree on the House’s amended tax rate.
The Keystone State doesn’t have any laws for or against online gaming. This
leaves a lot of questions to be answered regarding both daily fantasy sports
(DFS) and other forms of iGaming.
Let’s look at a few of the FAQs that we’ve received on Pennsylvania’s online
Are Daily Fantasy Sports Legal in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania follows a “predominance test” with regard to daily fantasy
sports. This means that levels of chance and skill are measured to determine if
DFS is a legal skill based activity.
As of now, DFS is in a grey area in Pennsylvania. There’s currently
legislation on the table that would legalize and regulate the activity.
State Senator, Gary Reschenthaler has introduced legislation that seeks to
legalize DFS. This bill is receiving some attention because it would help the
aforementioned state budget problem.
Even if Reschenthaler’s bill doesn’t pass, players can still enjoy DFS
through Pennsylvania’s unregulated market.
Why does Pennsylvania Allow Offshore Gaming Sites?
The Quaker State doesn’t have any legislation in place that allows offshore
operators. They don’t pay much attention to these sites though.
Like other states, Pennsylvania has more pressing matters to worry about
other than chasing offshore companies in the Caribbean or Central America. Plus,
it takes a lot of manpower and legal resources to pursue such a case.
The U.S. Department of Justice carried out a successful case against online
poker sites. Dubbed Black Friday,
this operation busted the owners of Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars
and UltimateBet for money laundering and bank fraud.
Pennsylvania won’t carry out the same kind of largescale case against
offshore operators – especially when they already have budget difficulties.
Pennsylvania’s stance against offshore gaming companies will change when/if
they legalize iGambling. For now, they’re taking a laidback approach.
Why do I Keep Seeing Commercials Bashing Online Gambling?
For a while, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) ran numerous
advertisements railing against Pennsylvania’s online gambling efforts.
Their key points included biased studies that Internet gambling will lead to
widespread addiction and an increased number of underage players.
Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Sands Bethlehem
Casino, funds the CSIG. His main goal is to stop Internet gambling in
Pennsylvania as well as other states.
This seems unfathomable right now with the current federal ban in place. We
do see the Quaker State eventually being able to regulate Internet sports
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 bans
sports wagering on a federal level. The only four exceptions include the
grandfathered states of Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.
New Jersey has been fighting PASPA in an attempt to have land-based
NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver – although not approving of sports gambling –
activity should be legalized to give consumers options besides offshore
The Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee preemptively passed a
sports betting law (23 to 1 vote) to legalize sports betting. This would take
effect if Congress ever repeals PASPA.
Is It Legal to Gamble on My Smartphone in Pennsylvania?
Keeping with the theme of Pennsylvania’s other gambling laws, we don’t see
anything that would deem smartphones gaming to be illegal.
Many states have broad laws that cover wireless capable devices like
computers, smartphones and tablets, but Pennsylvania’s criminal code doesn’t
discuss such devices in a manner that would make them illegal. Instead, all
language regarding illegal devices is aimed at operators – namely those with
Here’s an example from code 5513 (1):
“… intentionally or knowingly makes, assembles, sets up, maintains, sells,
lends, leases, gives away, or offers for sale, loan, lease or gift, any punch
board, drawing card, slot machine or any device to be used for gambling
purposes, except playing cards.”
As you can see, this discusses physical gambling devices that illegal gambler
operators would offer. It doesn’t, however, come remotely close to deeming smart
phones/tablets as gaming devices.
Long story short, you’ll likely never be arrested for playing online casino
and poker games on your phone.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board oversees the state’s 13 licensed
casinos and slots parlors. They also work with the State Horse Racing Commission
to oversee racinos.
Here’s a closer look at both of these agencies along with more resources on
Pennsylvania gambling laws.
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