Pennsylvania Online Casinos
Online casino gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania in October 2017, but the unusually high tax on online slot machines makes it doubtful that it will lead to a boom in online casinos in the state. The Pennsylvania iLottery launched in May 2018 with a range of instant win games. Online casinos are due to be launching in the Keystone State in early 2019, although the DOJ’s recent reinterpretation of the Wire Act has made further delay possible.
Pennsylvania iLottery players have to be aged 18 or over and physically present in the state when playing, although you don’t need to be a Pennsylvania resident to register. You also have to provide the last four digits of your social security number,
History Of Online Casino Regulation in Pennsylvania
It took four years and many attempts for online casino gambling in Pennsylvania to become legalized.
After the success of legalized land casinos, State Senator Tina Davis first introduced an online gambling bill in 2013. Despite the increase in tax revenue thanks to legalized gambling, the bill failed to make any progress through the Pennsylvanian legal system.
In 2015 no fewer than four online gambling bills were proposed by different representatives and senators. Despite one of these bills being voted for by the Pennsylvania Gaming and Oversight Committee and despite a large shortfall in the state’s budget, online casino gambling in Pennsylvania remained illegal.
2016 bought more of the same: One online gambling bill was actually voted through the House, only to be sat on by the Senate.
In October 2017, after several amendments, Governor Tom Wolf finally signed the bill which made online gambling in Pennsylvania legal.
One contentious point of the bill is the 54% tax on gross online slot revenues in Pennsylvania – by far the highest tax on gambling in the U.S.
History of Gambling in Pennsylvania
It may be comparatively new to the casino game but, since legalizing slot machines in 2004, gambling in Pennsylvania has blossomed. In 2012, it overtook next-door neighbours New Jersey as the state with the second-highest casino revenue. It now trails only to Nevada, despite the high tax rate. In 2018, Pennsylvania’s casinos grossed over $3.2 billion dollars (compared to New Jersey’s $2.9 billion).
Pennsylvania has a love-hate relationship with gambling. Playing cards was first banned in the state by Quakers Pennsylvania as 1682. Two hundred years later, horse racing had become a major attraction in the state, with the famous ‘Camptown Races’ song inspired by the state. At the same time however, one Pennsylvanian law of 1847 stated that all gamblers were “parasites and thieves”.
Despite calls for change throughout the early part of the 20th century – during which time Pennsylvanian horse-owners and gamblers took their business elsewhere – horse-racing remained illegal in the state until 1959.
The Pennsylvania Lottery was created in 1971 and began selling tickets the following year. Initially designed as a way to help with tax relief for senior citizens, the PA Lottery remains the only state lottery to donate all its proceedings to helping senior citizens.
Seven years later in May 1978, the first legal casino opened in Atlantic City, NJ – under sixty miles away from Philadelphia. Pennsylvania residents were soon making the trip across the border for their gambling entertainment.
Yet it wasn’t until 1991, having seen Atlantic City flourish thanks to legalized casino gambling, that Pennsylvania first began to seriously look at permitting its own casinos. Faced with a troubled economic climate during the 1980s, then-Mayor of Philadelphia Wilson Goode had floated the idea of legalizing riverboat gambling. His successor Ed Rendell continued to push Goode’s proposal but it was rejected by a large House majority.
Undeterred, in 1993 Rendell set up a commission to look into how legalized gambling in Philadelphia could work. The following year, a poll showed that the majority of voters would be in favour of legal riverboat gambling. Unlike other states though, there was no referendum and, in any case, then-Governor Robert Casey announced that he would veto any attempts to legalize casino gambling in Pennsylvania.
Despite another attempt in 1999 to get a gambling bill through the Senate, casino gambling remained illegal.
In 2002, the tide began to turn when Ed Rendell became State Governor. His campaign included a pledge to legalize slot machines at Pennsylvania race-tracks.
He made good on his promise: In summer 2004, whilst 4th July celebrations were happening, Pennsylvania State rushed through amendments to the Horse Track Security Bill. Before anyone could object, Pennsylvania found it had authorization for 61,000 legal slot machines to be spread across 14 areas; mostly race-tracks but also designated tourist areas. Importantly, it also allowed for the licensing of seven casinos, all to begin operating from 2006.
Over the following couple of years, anti-gambling groups put up several fights in the Pennsylvania courts. Philadelphia City Council won a 2007 case which would allow a referendum for residents angry about the placement of two casinos in their city. However, the state won an appeal and, in September 2010, SugarHouse Casino became the first to open in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania now has 13 casinos across the state, with a 14th – Live! – due to open in Philadelphia in 2020.
Legal casino and online gambling in Philadelphia are regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). The PGCB was set up in 2004 when slot machines were legalized in the state.
The PGCB does not have any control over the Pennsylvania Lottery or horse-racing; although the PGCB ensures that some taxes from casino revenue are invested into horse-racing.
Horse-racing in Pennsylvania is currently controlled by the State Horse Racing Commission, part of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
As mentioned earlier, the taxes on land and online slot machines in Pennsylvania are the highest in the U.S. at 54-55%. Video gaming terminals are much the same at 52%. Land and online table games and fantasy sports are levied at 14-16%.
Help for Problem Gambling
Pennsylvania gamblers who are worried that they have developed a problem have several options. As well as the national helplines and websites, there is the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania (CCGP) who offer a free 24-hour helpline. As well as helping people get referred for therapy, the CCGP also aim to educate the wider Pennsylvania community about issues that can arise from gambling addiction. The Pennsylvania Department of Health also offer a free and confidential 24-hour Gambling Addiction Hotline.
Through their Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling, the CCGP also runs a self-exclusion program for gamblers. However, they have no authority over the Philadelphia Lottery which runs its own self-exclusion program.