Gambling has expanded considerably in Pennsylvania in recent years, and today it's one of the most liberal markets in the US. All players of legal gambling age in the state can access licensed Pennsylvania online casinos, online sportsbooks, and poker sites, plus daily fantasy sports, and online racebooks.
Its 16 casinos are second only to the Nevada market in terms of the revenue they generate. Gross gaming revenue across all its casinos was $5.34 billion in 2022, creating an estimated overall economic impact of $6.45 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.
For many years, parimutuel horse and dog betting was the only game in town, and it was legalized later than in many states, in 1959. The first racetrack, the Meadows, opened in 1963 and took the first legal bets in the state.
Next came the lottery (1971), followed by charitable gaming (1988).
By the early 2000s, the racetracks were struggling, and a law that allowed them to host slots ultimately led to the establishment of standalone casinos.
Online casino and poker games were legalized in 2017, and sports betting launched in 2019.
|Casino, poker, sports betting, iLottery
|Legal gambling age
|18 for lottery, 21 for casinos, online gaming
Pennsylvania Unlawful Gambling
For a state where a lot of legal gambling goes on, Pennsylvania's Criminal Code is curiously brief when it comes to unlawful gambling. It does not even provide a definition of gambling, much less a definition of online gaming.
However, it does make illegal any form of gambling that is not specifically exempted by the legislature. The laws focus specifically on gambling operators and not on players.
For example, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he:
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.
Matters related to gambling are covered in Pennsylvania Statutes 5513.18.
The legal minimum gambling age in Pennsylvania is 18 for the lottery and 21 land-based for casinos, sports betting, and online gaming.
In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act. This had the dual intent of "protecting the public from unlawful gaming," while supporting the ailing racing industry.
The act authorized slot licenses for seven horse racetracks, enabling them to become "racinos," while allowing for the construction of five standalone casinos and two large resort casinos. The legislation also created the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to oversee the new market.
Each casino would have up to 5,000 slot machines, apart from the resorts, which were allocated up to 6,000.
The first casino to open its doors was the Mohegan Sun Pocono, now the Mohegan Pennsylvania, which launched at the Pocono Downs racetrack in November 2006. The first resort casino, the Mount Airy Casino Resort, opened in 2007. The second, the Sands Bethlehem (now the Wind Creek), followed in 2009.
On January 7, 2010, then-governor Edward Rendell signed a bill that amended the state's casino laws to allow table games, including roulette, poker, blackjack, and baccarat. It was a move that eventually saw Pennsylvania supersede its neighbor, New Jersey, as the second-biggest commercial casino state in the country. A third of Atlantic City's casinos closed down in the ensuing decade.
Blackjack fans, take note: Pennsylvania's blackjack rules include a number of player-friendly dynamics that diminish the house edge. Player blackjacks must be paid 3-to-2, and dealers must stand on soft 17. Meanwhile, players may double down on any two cards, and they can choose to surrender their hands after the dealer checks for blackjack.
In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a massive gaming expansion legislative package legalizing online casino gaming and authorizing the establishment of four small "satellite" casinos, each licensed to house up to 750 slot machines and 30 table games. It also legalized slots at truck stops, internet cafes, and international airports.
Pennsylvania Online Gaming
Pennsylvania became just the fourth state to legalize and regulate online gaming in 2017, and its first internet casinos went live in 2019. Under the new rules, existing land-based gaming licensees were permitted to partner with third-party software providers to create multiple "skins" -- i.e., brands that exist on the same platform. However, each skin would have to clearly show a relationship with a land-based casino in its branding.
Today, Pennsylvania has 20 online casinos, including big-name brands like BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel, offering a wide range of slots, table games, and online poker. The Lottery also has its own online gaming platform, iLottery.
Pennsylvania's sweeping 2017 gambling reforms also legalized online sports betting and DFS. In March 2023, the state's online gaming and sports betting revenues hit $181.5 million, a record for any US state at the time of writing.
Pennsylvania Sports Betting
Online and land-based sports betting have been legal in Pennsylvania since 2017. The first retail sportsbooks went live inside casinos in November 2018, while online operations began in May 2019. There are currently 12 mobile apps serving the market, including Caesars, BetMGM, BetRivers, and DraftKings.
The rules allow for wagering on college games but draw the line at high school games and other amateur athletic events.
There are also a very small number of off-track betting parlors (OTBs) offering sports betting in the state.
Pennsylvania is a great state for poker players. There are good-sized poker rooms in nine of the state's casinos, including Live! Casino Philadelphia, the Mount Airy Resort, the Wind Creek Bethlehem, Parx Casino, and the Mohegan Pennsylvania.
Players also have a choice of four sites for online play: PokerStars, WSOP Pennsylvania, BetMGMPoker, and Borgata Poker PA.
Pennsylvania is the only state to have legalized online poker that has not yet joined the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), which means its games are ring-fenced within the state's borders. This restricts player liquidity, limiting the size of tournament fields, and therefore prize pools, as well as the variety of games and stakes available.
A critical mass of players is vital for a healthy online poker market, but it remains unclear whether the state intends to join MISGA in the future to share its player pools with New Jersey, Michigan, Nevada, Delaware, and West Virginia.
Unlike many states, Pennsylvania has no law that explicitly legalizes private home poker games where no one takes a rake. However, state authorities have zero interest in targeting small, non-commercial poker games that may be nominally illegal.
Pennsylvania Parimutuel Betting
There was no legal and regulated gambling at all in Pennsylvania until 1963 when the Meadows Racetrack opened its doors and began taking parimutuel bets on harness racing, closely followed by the Liberty Bell racetrack. The enabling legislation was the Race Horse Industry Reform Act of 1959. The legalization of thoroughbred racing in 1968 spawned yet more tracks.
The Meadows introduced several innovations to the world of racing, including "Call-A-Bet," which allowed users to create individual betting accounts and phone-in wagers for races. Meanwhile, in the 1980s, its Meadows Racing Network (MRN) distributed telecast of live races to local cable providers, using the memorable tagline: "Every 16 minutes, the place goes crazy!"
Today, like all the state's tracks that have survived the dwindling popularity of racing, the Meadows has a casino attached.
Pennsylvania has three thoroughbred racetracks -- PARX, Penn National Race Course, and Presque Isle Downs -- and three harness tracks, Mohegan Pennsylvania, Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack & Casino, and The Meadows.
Off-track betting (OTB) parlors were legalized in 1988, and Pennsylvania used to have a thriving OTB industry, which in recent years has declined to just a few locations.
The Pennsylvania Lottery was established in 1972. It offers a mix of intrastate draw games and multistate offerings like Powerball and Mega Millions, as well as scratch-off tickets. While you cannot purchase draw tickets online, the lottery has offered its iLottery online gaming platform since 2018. This is much to the displeasure of the state's casino industry, which has complained the iLottery's games are too similar to slots, which the casinos pay a $10 million license fee to host.
Pennsylvania Skill Games
The proliferation of skill-game machines across Pennsylvania is a relatively recent phenomenon. The machines look like slots, but manufacturers, such as Georgia-based Pace-O-Matic, insist they are legal because skill predominates over luck and so they cannot be classed as a gambling game.
The machines employ skill-based features, such as bonus games that require players to memorize intricate patterns. But their legality is the subject of ongoing litigation.
In 2019, a Commonwealth Court Judge ruled that Pace-O-Matic’s games met the definition of slots, according to Pennsylvania’s Gaming Act. But confusingly, she also determined the company had not violated the gaming act because the act only applied to machines that were licensed and regulated, and Pace-O-Matics machines were not.
The judge declined to rule on whether the machines constituted “illegal gambling devices.”
The Pennsylvania Bingo Law (1981) allowed certain nonprofits to conduct bingo to raise funds for "charitable" and "civic" purposes.
The Pennsylvania Local Option Small Games of Chance Act (1988) permitted limited gaming for nonprofits and for commercial taverns. Games allowed include pull-tabs, punchboards, raffles, daily drawings, weekly drawings, Race Night Games, and pools.
Pennsylvania Gambling FAQ
Does Pennsylvania have casinos?
Yes, Pennsylvania has 16 casinos, including two major resorts, the Mount Airy Casino Resort and the Wind Creek Bethlehem.
Can I play slots in Pennsylvania?
Yes, you can play Las Vegas-style slots at any of the state's 16 casinos. You can also play VGT's at truck stops, internet cafes, and international airports.
Can I play blackjack in Pennsylvania?
Yes, blackjack and other table games are available at the state's casinos. In Pennsylvania, blackjack has player-friendly rules that diminish the house edge.
Is online gambling legal in Pennsylvania?
Yes, PA is one of a handful of states where you can play online casinos and online poker and bet on sports via mobile apps.
Is sports betting legal in Pennsylvania?
Yes, Pennsylvania legalized land-based and mobile sports betting in 2017.
Are Pennsylvania skill games legal?
Their manufacturers say they are because skill predominates over luck, but the matter is the subject of ongoing litigation.
Is online poker legal in Pennsylvania?
Yes, it is. There are currently four online poker sites serving the market: PokerStars, WSOP.com Pennsylvania, BetMGMPoker, and Borgata Poker PA.
Is there still live horse racing in Pennsylvania?
Yes, Pennsylvania has three thoroughbred racetracks -- PARX, Penn National Race Course, and Presque Isle Downs -- and three harness tracks, Mohegan Pennsylvania, Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack & Casino and The Meadows
Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (from 18 Pa C.S.A.)
§ 903 Criminal conspiracy
(a) Definition of conspiracy.--A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:
(1) agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or
(2) agrees to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime.
(b) Scope of conspiratorial relationship.--If a person guilty of conspiracy, as defined by subsection (a) of this section, knows that a person with whom he conspires to commit a crime has conspired with another person or persons to commit the same crime, he is guilty of conspiring with such other person or persons, to commit such crime whether or not he knows their identity.
(c) Conspiracy with multiple criminal objectives.--If a person conspires to commit a number of crimes, he is guilty of only one conspiracy so long as such multiple crimes are the object of the same agreement or continuous conspiratorial relationship.
(d) Joinder and venue in conspiracy prosecutions.--
(1) Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this subsection, two or more persons charged with criminal conspiracy may be prosecuted jointly if:
(i) they are charged with conspiring with one another; or
(ii) the conspiracies alleged, whether they have the same or different parties, are so related that they constitute different aspects of a scheme of organized criminal conduct.
(2) In any joint prosecution under paragraph (1) of this subsection:
(i) no defendant shall be charged with a conspiracy in any county other than one in which he entered into such conspiracy or in which an overt act pursuant to such conspiracy was done by him or by a person with whom he conspired;
(ii) neither the liability of any defendant nor the admissibility against him of evidence of acts or declarations of another shall be enlarged by such joinder; and
(iii) the court shall order a severance or take a special verdict as to any defendant who so requests, if it deems it necessary or appropriate to promote the fair determination of his guilt or innocence, and shall take any other proper measures to protect the fairness of the trial.
(e) Overt act.--No person may be convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime unless an overt act in pursuant of such conspiracy is alleged and proved to have been done by him or by a person with whom he conspired.
(f) Renunciation.--It is a defense that the actor, after conspiring to commit a crime, thwarted the success of the conspiracy, under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal intent.
(g) Duration of conspiracy.--For purposes of 42 Pa.C.S. § 5552(d) (relating to commission of offense):
(1) conspiracy is a continuing course of conduct which terminates when the crime or crimes which are its object are committed or the agreement that they be committed is abandoned by the defendant and by those with whom he conspired;
(2) such abandonment is presumed if neither the defendant nor any one with whom he conspired does any overt act in pursuance of the conspiracy during the applicable period of limitation; and
(3) if an individual abandons the agreement, the conspiracy is terminated as to him only if and when he advises those with whom he conspired of his abandonment or he informs the law enforcement authorities of the existence of the conspiracy and of his participation therein.
§ 5512. Lotteries, etc.
(a) Status of activity.--All unlawful lotteries or numbers games are hereby declared to be common nuisances. Every transfer of property which shall be in pursuance of any unlawful lottery or numbers game is hereby declared to be invalid and void.
(b) Offense defined.--A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he:
(1) sets up, or maintains, any lottery or numbers game;
(2) manufactures or prints, or sells, exposes for sale or has in his possession with intent to sell any unlawful lottery or numbers ticket or share, or any writing, token or other device purporting or intending to entitle the holder or bearer, or any other person, to any prize to be drawn or obtained in any lottery, or numbers game; or
(3) publishes any advertisement of any lottery or numbers game.
(c) Status of purchaser.--The purchaser of any such ticket, or device, shall not be liable to any prosecution or penalty arising out of this crime, and shall in all respects be a competent witness to prove the offense.
(d) Definition.--As used in this section the term "unlawful" means not specifically authorized by law.
§ 5513. Gambling devices, gambling, etc.:
(a) Offense defined. — A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he:
(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;
(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; or
(4) being the owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, or any part thereof, to be used for the purpose of unlawful gambling.
(a.1) Electronic video monitor. — A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he owns, operates, maintains, places into operation or has a financial interest in an electronic video monitor or business that owns, operates, maintains or places into operation or has a financial interest in an electronic video monitor:
(1) which is offered or made available to persons to play or participate in a simulated gambling program for direct or indirect consideration, including consideration associated with a related product, service or activity; and
(2) for which the person playing the simulated gambling program may become eligible for a cash or cash-equivalent prize, whether or not the eligibility for or value of the cash or cash-equivalent prize is determined by or has any relationship to the outcome of or play of the simulated gambling program.
(b) Confiscation of gambling devices. — Any gambling device possessed or used in violation of the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall be seized and forfeited to the Commonwealth. All provisions of law relating to the seizure, summary and judicial forfeiture, and condemnation of intoxicating liquor shall apply to seizures and forfeitures under the provisions of this section.
(c) Antique slot machines.
(1) A slot machine shall be established as an antique slot machine if the defendant shows by a preponderance of the evidence that it was manufactured at least 25 years before the current year and that it was not used or attempted to be used for any unlawful purposes. Notwithstanding subsection (b), no antique slot machine seized from any defendant shall be destroyed or otherwise altered until the defendant is given an opportunity to establish that the slot machine is an antique slot machine. After a final court determination that the slot machine is an antique slot machine, the slot machine shall be returned pursuant to the provisions of law providing for the return of property; otherwise, the slot machine shall be destroyed.
(2) It is the purpose of this subsection to protect the collection and restoration of antique slot machines not presently utilized for gambling purposes.
(d) Shipbuilding business. — Notwithstanding any other provisions of this section, a person may construct, deliver, convert or repair a vessel that is equipped with gambling devices if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The work performed on the vessel is ordered by a customer who uses or possesses the vessel outside of this Commonwealth in a locality where the use or possession of the gambling devices on the vessel is lawful.
(2) The work performed on the vessel that is equipped with gambling devices is performed at a shipbuilding or repair yard located within a port facility under the jurisdiction of any port authority organized under the act of December 6, 1972 (P.L.1392, No.298) , known as the Third Class City Port Authority Act.
(3) The person provides the Office of Attorney General, prior to the importation of the gambling devices into this Commonwealth, records that account for the gambling devices, including the identification number affixed to each gambling device by the manufacturer, and that identify the location where the gambling devices will be stored prior to the installation of the gambling devices on the vessel.
(4) The person stores the gambling devices at a secured location and permits any person authorized to enforce the gambling laws to inspect the location where the gambling devices are stored and records relating to the storage of the gambling devices.
(5) If the person removes used gambling devices from a vessel, the person shall provide the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania with an inventory of the used gambling devices prior to their removal from the vessel. The inventory shall include the identification number affixed to each gambling device by the manufacturer.
(6) The person submits documentation to the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania no later than 30 days after the date of delivery that the vessel equipped with gambling devices has been delivered to the customer who ordered the work performed on the vessel.
(7) The person does not sell a gambling device to any other person except to a customer who shall use or possess the gambling device outside of this Commonwealth in a locality where the use or possession of the gambling device is lawful. If a person sells a gambling device to such a customer, the person shall submit documentation to the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania no later than 30 days after the date of delivery that the gambling device has been delivered to the customer.
(e) Penalty. — Any person who fails to provide records as provided in subsection (d) commits a summary offense.
(e.1) Construction. — Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any activity that is lawfully conducted under any of the following:
(1) The act of August 26, 1971 (P.L. 351, No. 91), known as the State Lottery Law.
(2) The act of July 10, 1981 (P.L. 214, No. 67), known as the Bingo Law.
(3) The act of December 19, 1988 (P.L. 1262, No. 156), known as the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act.
(4) 4 Pa.C.S. (relating to amusements).
(f) Definitions. — The following words and phrases when used in this section shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
"Consideration associated with a related product, service or activity." —Money or other value collected for a product, service or activity which is offered in any direct or indirect relationship to playing or participating in the simulated gambling program. The term includes consideration paid for computer time, internet time, telephone calling cards and a sweepstakes entry.
"Electronic video monitor." —An electronic device capable of showing moving or still images.
"Simulated gambling program." —Any method intended to be used by a person interacting with an electronic video monitor in a business establishment that directly or indirectly implements the predetermination of sweepstakes cash or cash-equivalent prizes or otherwise connects the sweepstakes player or participant with the cash or cash-equivalent prize.
§ 5514. Pool selling and bookmaking.
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he:
(1) engages in pool selling or bookmaking;
(2) occupies any place for the purpose of receiving, recording or registering bets or wagers, or of selling pools;
(3) receives, records, registers, forwards, or purports or pretends to forward, to another, any bet or wager upon the result of any political nomination, appointment or election, or upon any contest of any nature;
(4) becomes the custodian or depository, for gain or ward, of any property staked, wagered or pledged, or to be staked, wagered, or pledged upon any such result; or
(5) being the owner, lessee, or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, to be used or occupied for any of such purposes.
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