Pennsylvania’s real-world and online gambling options have expanded significantly in recent years. Major gaming reforms enacted in 2017 have allowed the state to offer new forms of gambling that were previously unavailable to residents. Today, we’ll be discussing what is legal right now as well as linking to some of the best Pennsylvania betting sites that are licensed and located right here in the USA.
Pennsylvania began the process of drastically changing its gambling landscape in 2017 when lawmakers passed a major gambling reform bill to legalize online casino games, online poker, fantasy sports and online sports betting. The October 2017 bill also formally legalized daily fantasy sports and enacted regulations to govern the industry.
The part of the 2017 bill related to online sports betting in Pennsylvania was contingent upon the Supreme Court striking the federal sports betting prohibition known as PASPA. The Supreme Court gave that decision in May of 2018. Shortly after the decision, Pennsylvania announced it would proceed with sports betting and began accepting applications from land-based casinos to open Vegas-style sportsbooks.
Less than a week after that announcement, the Pennsylvania Lottery issued an announcement of its own: online lottery games are now available to customers 18 and older. Between the many forms of gambling that are legal and available right now, there is much to discuss – so let’s dig in.
Legal Pennsylvania Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Online Gambling Legalized in Pennsylvania
HB 271 passed the Pennsylvania House and Senate in 2017 to legalize gambling and betting sites in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill into law days after the legislature sent it to his desk. The bill covers a lot of ground, but the most important parts of the bill grant existing casinos as well as other “qualified entities” the ability to apply for licenses to offer online gambling games.
Casinos and other “qualified gaming entities” are required to have licenses for each of three different types of online gaming:
- Non-peer-to-peer interactive games which simulates slot machines
- Non-peer-to-peer games which simulates table games
- Peer-to-peer interactive games which simulates poker
In other words, casinos must be specifically licensed for online slots, table games and poker. Each license may be applied for individually at a cost of $4 million. Existing Pennsylvania casinos were also given the option to purchase all three licenses in a package deal for $10 million during the first 90-day period after the law was passed.
Nine casinos opted for the package deal and submitted their licensing applications on or before July 16th, 2018. The casinos that applied for online gaming licenses include:
- Parx Casino
- Live! Hotel and Casino Philadelphia
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Valley Forge Casino Resort
- Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack
- Rivers Casino
- SugarHouse Casino
High tax rates remain an issue in this bill with online slots facing a tax rate of 52% plus 2% local taxes. Likewise, table games and poker are taxed at 14% + 2% and sports betting at 34% + 2%.
Three of those casinos were approved for online gambling by the Gaming Control Board the following month. The following casinos have been approved for online slots, table games and poker:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Parx Casino
- Mount Airy
The Gaming Control Board must now run background checks on the software providers offering their services to each casino, approve the types of games that each casino will offer and then complete test runs before giving those casinos the go-ahead to take their games online. Additional online casinos are expected to be approved over coming weeks.
Sports Betting in Pennsylvania
As rumors spread that the Supreme Court was considering striking down the federal sports betting ban, Pennsylvania quickly emerged as one of the states most interested in exploring new sports betting opportunities. Over the course of a single week in 2017, state lawmakers made two moves to bring real money sports betting one step closer to fruition.
First, there was the massive gambling overhaul passed in mid-October 2017 that declared live and online sports betting will be legal, taxed and regulated as soon as it becomes legal at the federal level. At the time the bill was passed in Pennsylvania, federal law still prohibited states other than Nevada from legalizing and regulating sports betting.
Second, Governor Wolf decided to allow the state lottery to begin offering virtual sports betting. This decision occurred within days of the legislature’s approval of the aforementioned gambling expansion bill. Virtual sports betting is designed to look exactly like real sports betting but with the one obvious difference being that virtual sports games are never contested in the real world.
At the end of October 2017, Governor Wolf signed the online gambling bill into law to legalize not just online casino games, fantasy sports and online poker, but also sports betting. Pennsylvania can now get to work implementing the law, drafting regulations and issuing licenses for everything except sports betting.
A Supreme Court decision struck down the ban in 2018, which allowed Pennsylvania to proceed with its sports betting plans. The state began accepting sports betting license applications from casinos in May of 2018. Pennsylvania sports betting sites will likely be authorized in the near future as well, but for now we’re still waiting for the state to finalize regulations and set the stage for a safe gambling environment.
Most of the news coming out of Pennsylvania these days is good for gamblers, with the exception being excessive tax rates applied to sports betting. Current gaming laws call for a 36% tax rate on sports betting – the highest in the nation and more than 4 times higher than the tax rate levied on sports betting in New Jersey.
The Gaming Control Board had trouble attracting casinos to apply for licenses at first, with operators such as William Hill US plainly stating they had no intention to apply for a sports betting license due to the excessive fees and taxes. Others involved in the gaming industry expressed similar concerns.
Roughly two-and-a-half month after the Board invited casinos to apply for licenses, the Board received its first applicant: Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. Interestingly, Hollywood Casino has teamed up with William Hill US to offer sports betting despite the former previously saying it had no interest in Pennsylvania.
Parx Casino Sports Betting
Parx Casino finally broke the stalemate between casinos and legislators when it confirmed near the end of July that it has joined forces with software provider GAN plc to offer in-person and online sports betting in PA.
The exact timeline for when Parx Casino will open its sportsbook or begin taking online wagers remains unclear at this time. However, GAN did say it is aiming to have sports betting in place by the second half of 2018.
Hollywood Casino Sports Betting
Although Parx Casino was the first casino to confirm its intention to offer sports betting, Hollywood Casino was the first to actually submit a license application. Penn National Gaming said at the time that it would like to begin taking wagers on September 1st, but the Gaming Control Board may need more time before giving Hollywood Casino the green light.
In any case, Hollywood Casino is close to offering sports betting. The casino is teamed up with William Hill US to run its sportsbook. A press release from Penn National did not specifically mention online sports betting, but that seems likely to be added at some point considering William Hill is deeply experience with online betting.
Horse Racing Betting
Online horse racing betting is legal for residents of Pennsylvania. Federal laws allow each state to determine the legality of horse betting and most states allow residents to bet on horse races online. All of the nation’s largest horse betting websites have a presence in the state.
Where to Bet on Horses in Pennsylvania
All of the following racing betting sites accept customers from Pennsylvania. Each of the sites listed below is headquartered in the United States and holds a license to offer real money bets on horses and greyhounds.
- BetAmerica: www.betamerica.com
- Twin Spires: www.twinspires.com
- TVG: www.tvg.com
- Watch and Wager: www.watchandwager.com
Pennsylvania is also home to six live racing venues that accept wagers on races. Horse racing in the state is regulated by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission under the Department of Agriculture. Here’s a look at the six racetracks that call PA home.
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
1280 Highway 315
Wilkes-Barre PA 18702
777 Harrah’s Blvd.
Chester, PA 19013
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
777 Hollywood Blvd.
Grantville, PA 17028
2999 Street Road
Bensalem, PA 19020
Presque Isle Downs
8199 Perry Highway
Erie, PA 16509
Meadows Racetrack Casino
210 Racetrack Rd.
Washington, PA 15301
Fantasy sports betting is exempt from all federal legislation because it is considered a contest of skill. A few states prohibit fantasy sports, but Pennsylvania has never moved to put an end to the activity. In fact, Pennsylvania has passed legislation to formally legalize and regulate fantasy sports.
In October of 2017, the state legislature sent a massive gambling expansion bill to the governor’s desk. This bill covered a wide range of activities including online poker, online gambling, online sports betting and daily fantasy sports.
The governor signed off on the bill within days of receiving it and the portion of the bill relating to fantasy sports began taking effect on April 28th of 2018. Daily fantasy sports sites must be licensed to operate in Pennsylvania and are subject to numerous consumer protection regulations.
Among those regulations are requirements that all sites be licensed, that they only accept customers over 18, that they be subject to independent audits and that they keep players’ funds in a segregated account separate from operator funds (in order to protect customers’ deposits).
People were able to play daily fantasy online in Pennsylvania for years prior to the passage of the bill and little has changed for the players. The biggest DFS sites applied for licenses immediately and are currently authorized to continue holding real money contests in Pennsylvania. Our recommended sites at the top of this page are all licensed and legal.
How Fantasy Sports Sites Work
Fantasy sports betting is a whole different ballgame than traditional sports wagering. In a fantasy league, you are given a virtual salary cap which is used to draft players for your virtual team. Each player in the league is priced according to his perceived value. If you want to draft the best quarterback in the NFL, for example, you’re going to spend a good portion of your salary on that one player.
Once you have drafted your team, all you have to do is watch that week’s games. As your team’s real life counterparts amass stats in the real world, your fantasy team accumulates points online. The person whose team accumulates the most points wins the league.
You can compete against a single player in a heads-up match or join tournaments with massive prize pools. Each fantasy league only lasts for a single day or week so that each member of your fantasy team plays in exactly one game.
Fantasy sites in the United States cover the biggest pro leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA , NHL and PGA) in addition to college basketball and football. The goal in all fantasy leagues is to draft a well-rounded team, stay under the salary cap and rack up the most stats. If you win your competition, you win real money.
The big gambling expansion law we discussed earlier also included reforms for the Pennsylvania Lottery. Most notably, the bill granted the lottery permission to offer lottery-style games online. Some of the types of games permitted include lottery tickets, instant scratch card games and keno, but the lottery is not authorized to offer games that resemble those found in casinos (such as blackjack or slots).
In June of 2018, the PA Lottery announced the launch of its new online gaming site located at PAiLottery.com. The new iLottery website launched with a small selection of chance-based games that function similar to the scratch you buy in the real world, but with all the animations, sound effects and bonus rounds you can only get by playing online.
Not long after the PA legislature sent that bill to Governor Wolf, the governor made a separate announcement that he would be authorizing the Pennsylvania Lottery to operate virtual sports betting terminals in authorized locations such as bars and taverns. The state lottery predicted that the change would result in up to $75 million in additional revenue over the next five years.
More About PAiLottery.com
The Pennsylvania online lottery site (see our review here) is open to anyone 18 and over. You can try demo games from anywhere in the nation, but real money play is limited to customers located within Pennsylvania state lines. The lottery website uses geolocation technology to detect your current location and ensure the real money games remain firmly inside state borders.
If you’re at least 18 and are located in Pennsylvania, you can create a real money account and fund it via debit card, ACH e-check or PayNearMe. The minimum deposit is $10 and there is no maximum withdrawal limit.
The state lottery takes problem gambling seriously and PAiLottery is built with several features designed to help keep things under control. Players can set daily, weekly or monthly deposit limits to combat overspending. Players may also set time limits and loss limits. Finally, the lottery website offers complete self-exclusion periods ranging from one to five years.
Sign up for an account at PA iLottery and Get $5 in Free Plays:
Past Efforts to Legalize Online Gambling in Pennsylvania
All legislation detailed below is dead today, but we figured it would be better to leave these overviews up rather than delete them outright. It’s interesting to look back at previous efforts and see that excessive tax rates and licensing fees are not a new thing in Pennsylvania. Note that this is not a comprehensive list of every bill ever proposed in Pennsylvania. We’re just sticking with the biggest bills that appeared the likeliest to pass at one point.
2013: House Bill No. 1235
Representative Tina Davis introduced House Bill No. 1235 a couple of times. The bill called for the legalization and regulation of online poker and casino games such as blackjack, slot machines and so on. A previous iteration of the bill included burdensome licensing fees and taxes. At one point, the bill required a licensing fee of $16,500,000 per operator and a 45% tax rate on the industry.
She reintroduced the bill in 2013 with considerably lower fees and taxes. The 2013 edition asked for a $5,000,000 license fee and a 28% tax rate. These updated rates brought Pennsylvania more in line with what we’re seeing in other states.
Overall, the bill was fairly lenient. It did not include a “bad actor” clause, which means sites such as PokerStars and Party Poker would be able to return to Pennsylvania and apply for licensing. The bill included an allowance for Pennsylvania to join interstate pacts with other states that legalize internet gaming. What this means is poker sites in Pennsylvania would be allowed to share player pools with poker sites operating in other states, thereby increasing the overall player pool for everyone.
The rest of the bill goes on to describe the measures that will be taken to ensure gambling remains fair, safe and free from the influence of crime. This bill was referred to the gaming oversight committee in April of 2013 and never came back.
2014: Senate Bill No. 1386
Senators Edwin Erickson and Bob Mensch introduced SB 1386 in June of 2014. Like the previous bill, this one paved the way for legalizing and regulating online casino games and poker. This bill too called for a $5 million licensing fee.
SB 1386 did contain several key differences. First, it proposed a tax rate of just 14%. Second, this one did include a bad actor clause. What that means is any gaming companies that accepted wagers from the United States after 2006 would be forever prohibited from offering their services in Pennsylvania.
Additionally, licenses would only be issued to existing brick-and-mortar operators in Pennsylvania. These operators could team up with 3rd party software providers, but all online operations would have to be promoted and marketed under the brand of the brick-and-mortar establishment.
2015/2016: House Bill No. 649, SB 900
HB 460: Full Text
SB 900: Full Text
HB 649 was first introduced in February of 2015 and hung around throughout part of 2016. This law wanted to direct the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to create regulations, license operators and monitor licensees.
HB 649 would allow brick-and-mortar casinos to apply for licensees for an $8 million fee and give them the ability to partner with existing online gaming providers who can provide the technology and expertise to take brick-and-mortar casinos to the digital realm.
State Representative John Payne, chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, told Trib Live in January of 2016 that he believes the state will find the potential income from legal online casino games too irresistible to pass on.
“Look, we need revenue,” he said. “They’re not going to find votes for taxes in an election year. So I would think gaming will be a component.”
One bill introduced in 2015 even proposed a ridiculous 54% tax rate for online gaming revenue. The tax rates specified in SB 900 were seen as ridiculous at the time, but unfortunately that bill did set the stage for high tax rates in the 2017 bill that was later approved by the House and Senate.
A pair of identical bills were introduced in the House and Senate in 2017. Those bills called for poker sites and online casinos to apply for licenses at a cost of $8 million up front and $250,000 per year thereafter. Technology providers would likewise be subject to hefty taxes and fees: $2 million up front and $100,000 per year thereafter.
These two bills also called for a tax rate of 16%, which was much, much better than what some other proposals have called for. Neither bill made it into law, but they did set the stage for what would come later.
Shortly after those two bills were proposed, a third bill came out of nowhere courtesy of state Senator Jay Costa. His massive bill consisted of 200+ pages of regulations that would ultimately legalize gambling as well as formally legalize fantasy sports. The problems with this bill included taxes and fees. This one called for a $10 million licensing fee for gambling sites, $5 million for software providers and a tax rate of 25%.