Pennsylvania Gambling Laws, Regulations and Guide
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 gambling laws.
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Online Gambling and Pennsylvania Law
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 laws below.
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 misdemeanor penalties:
(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 so.
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 iGaming.
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 away.
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 gambling.
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 site:
- 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.
Breaking down what is or isn't legal in Pennsylvania. Gambling Venues in Pennsylvania
Where to gamble in the state of Pennsylvania. The History of Gaming Laws in Pennsylvania
A brief history of Pennsylvania laws regarding gambling. Pennsylvania Gambling FAQs
A list of questions asked about gambling in Pennsylvania Additional Information
Still have questions? Check out these links. The Future of Gambling in Pennsylvania
What does the future of gambling look like in Pennsylvania?
More Gambling Laws in Pennsylvania
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 gambling.
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 organizations.
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 biggest sellers.
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 gaming.
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 determination.
The case Commonwealth vs. Watkins makes it seem as if social gambling is legal in Pennsylvania.
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 gambling market:
Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack
777 Harrah's Boulevard, Chester, Pennsylvania
Hollywood Casino & Off Track Betting
777 Hollywood Boulevard, Grantville, Pennsylvania
Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin
4067 National Pike, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia
900 Packer Avenue Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Meadows Racetrack & Casino
210 Racetrack Road Washington, Pennsylvania
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Mount Airy Casino Resort
312 Woodland Road, Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania
Parx Casino and Racing
2999 Street Road, Bensalem, Pennsylvania
Presque Isle Downs & Casino
8199 Perry Highway, Erie, Pennsylvania
777 Casino Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
1001 North Delaware, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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.
Racehorse Development and Gaming Act passed, allowing commercial casino, racinos, and slots parlors.
Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack, Presque Isle Downs and Casino, Meadows Racetrack and Casino, and Mount Airy Casino open.
Sands Bethlehem Casino and Rivers Casino both open.
Gov. Ed Rendall approves legislation to allow table games at casinos.
Parx Casino and GameAccount Network launch play money gaming site.
HB 271 (legal online casino/poker games) passes State House and Sentate, the Senate must agree on the House's amended tax rate.
Penn National Race Court opens.
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs opens in Novewmber, becoming Pennsylvania's first casino; Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack opens the following month.
Hollywood Casino at Penn Nation becomes seventh casino to open.
House Rep. Tina Davis introduces bill to legalize Internet gambling.
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.
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 gaming market.
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.
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.
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.
Adelson would also like to see iGaming banned on a federal level. He's funded several politicians who have in turn introduced the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA) to U.S. Congress.
The good news, though, is that Adelson's bill has failed to gain any traction with conservatives,, despite the fact that he's one of the top GOP donors.
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 betting though.
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 sportsbooks.
NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver - although not approving of sports gambling - believes the activity should be legalized to give consumers options besides offshore sportsbooks.
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.
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 slot machines.
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.
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board- The Gaming Control Board's website offers revenue reports, regulations, info on hearings and licensing information.
Pennsylvania Gambling Law Amendments- Pennsylvania's gaming laws are constantly influx, but this page will help you keep up with some of the updates they make.
The Future & Your Views
Pennsylvania is the next closest candidate to legalize online gambling.
They've introduced several pieces of iGaming legislation over the past few years. HB 271 has passed both the State Senate and House, even though the latter takes issue with the taxes.
The main sticking point is the 54% tax-rate that's featured in HB 271 as well as several other legislative attempts.
Pennsylvania taxes land-based slot machine revenue at 55%. Politicians would like to see the online gambling rate approach this amount.
We don't see this being viable, though, because nobody in the world taxes Internet gambling at 54%.
Many consider Spain to have a high iGaming tax rate at 25%, not even charging half of what Pennsylvania bills have proposed.
By comparison, neighboring New Jersey only taxes online gambling revenue at 15%.
The good news is that Pennsylvania needs as much revenue as possible to meet their current $32 billion budget. This makes it likely that they'll work out the tax-rate problem and pass something soon.
In the meantime, Quicker State gamblers still have access to a wide variety of offshore gaming sites.