Pennsylvania Online Sports Betting – Secure Legal Wagering Coming Very Soon!

Ryan Ocello

Recent years have seen a stunning shift in the state of Pennsylvania and its attitude towards gambling. Since the first casinos opened in 2006 the market has become one of the nation’s biggest gaming economies. Recently, the market has grown even larger thanks to the launch of sports wagering.

Pennsylvania’s first retail books opened just in time for the tail end of the 2018 football season, and currently, there are 8 live land-based sportsbooks with more expected soon.

In addition, licenses have been granted by the state regulatory board to begin offering online options, which are expected in the very near future (pending only final approvals once the sites are fully ready). This would temporarily make Pennsylvania the only state besides neighboring New Jersey with a truly formidable real-world and internet sports wagering market.

In anticipation, this page will serve as an opportunity to explore the current situation in Pennsylvania, how the state created these opportunities, and what potential PA gamblers can expect.

Preparing for the launch of PA online sports betting

The path to begin wagering on sporting events online in Pennsylvania will overlap significantly with the other forms of internet gambling (casino, poker) that are likewise forthcoming in the market. Getting started once the sites have launched should be an extremely easy process, open to every customer that meets a small list of very simple requirements.

Age limit

As with land-based sports betting, adults in Pennsylvania must be 21 to place bets online. This is also the same minimum age for casino gambling, and only slightly more restrictive than the 18+ requirement to bet on horse races or purchase tickets for the state lottery (retail or online.)

Physical location boundaries

Pennsylvania is expected to employ the same geolocation security technology as other U.S. online gaming markets.

What this means is whatever mobile device or computer you wish to use to access an online sportsbook must run a simple, small piece of software to verify that you are physically within the boundaries of the state. Note: You do not have to a be a Pennsylvania resident to wager online.

So long as you have a solid Wi-Fi or cellular signal, which you would need generally anyway, you should easily pass this small impediment (with a few exceptions: computers with wired internet only, running banned remote access programs, or being too close to the state border).

Other restrictions

Aside from age and location, the only other limitation that would prevent easy access to online betting would be if an individual was specifically flagged as being not allowed.

For instance, this would occur either if a person had been banned by the state board or chose to be added to a self-exclusion list. Such lists exist as a safety measure for individual’s to protect themselves from a gambling problem.

About registration

Pennsylvania’s online sportsbook sites and mobile apps will likely offer a fast registration process that will require only a small amount of basic identifying information.

Bettors will need to provide names, choose passwords, and input social security numbers (last four digits only in most cases). Other identifying information like DOB and address will likely be required.

Once you submit your registration application, it will be put to the test via a stringent verification check, designed to ensure that you are who you say you are. Don’t worry, it should only take a few seconds, after which you’ll be free to start parlaying, teasing, and prop betting.

In the case of some sportsbooks, account databases may be shared with one of the operator’s affiliated online casinos, so certain future gamblers that are already active on such sites may not even need to create a new account and can just begin placing wagers.

About banking

Once your account is created and active, the only final requirement is to deposit some money. Online sports betting markets have established a wide set of options to allow players to access whatever method is most convenient to them, and we expect Pennsylvania to do the same.

This list of banking choices includes different types of checking and wire transfers, credit transactions, cash deposits at physical locations, and online payments by way of eWallet services.

While every deposit method occurs at a different speed, most options these days allow near instantaneous access to your funds. The majority of bettors will choose to use ACH (eChecks), credit cards, or PayPal, though some will prefer to bring cash to their local 7-11 or CVS for the PayNearMe feature, or deposit cash at their local casino cage.

It should be noted that there is no guarantee that PayPal will be offered at launch, but it is seen as highly likely. The service was delayed in becoming an option in the NJ casino market at first, but was fully established by the time sports betting launched and is now available at most sites. Though some were concerned that the new DOJ statements on the Wire Act might dissuade PayPal from entering another market, the financial transactions giant has expressed no such reticence.

A final point to keep in mind: before a new customer makes their initial deposit they should first familiarize themselves with the Welcome Bonus offers that may be available. Matched bets, matched deposits, bonus money, and loss prevention are all possible promotions that may be unlocked with a specific code at the time you transfer your money. Usually, this is a one-time opportunity only for your first deposit.

PA’s forthcoming online sportsbooks

Several licenses have been approved in Pennsylvania, but online sites still have yet to launch. Likely in the next few months one lucky operator will take the first crack at this untapped market.

Penn National

  • License date: Oct 3, 2018
  • Tech partners: William Hill
  • Other ties: Pinnacle Entertainment, IGT

Thanks to swift action and a partnership with sports wagering giant William Hill, Penn National was the first operation to launch a physical sportsbook in the state, and is hoping to get its online operation launched as soon as possible.

Parx

  • License date: Oct 3, 2018
  • Tech partners: Kambi, GAN
  • Other ties: South Philly Turf Club, Valley Forge Turf Club

The ambitious Parx Casino, which currently has control of three physical sports betting locations in Pennsylvania, has an arrangement with Kambi to power its soon-to-launch online sportsbook.

Harrah’s

  • License date: Oct 31, 2018
  • Tech partners: SG Digital
  • Other ties: Caesars Entertainment, WSOP

Harrah’s Philadelphia is under pressure to represent the Caesars family well in PA. The operator has had its real-world book open since late January and is fast at work finalizing its online site.

In early 2019, Caesars acquired an equity stake in DraftKings, and in exchange will provide the latter with broader market access. However, it doesn’t appear that the relationship will bear fruit in Pennsylvania, where Harrah’s Philadelphia is expected to use Caesars branding for its solitary online sports betting skin.

SugarHouse

  • License date: Oct 31, 2018
  • Tech partners: Kambi, Rush Street
  • Other ties: Rivers, PlaySugarHouse NJ

SugarHouse Casino moved quickly to get one of the first physical sportsbooks open in the state (tied for second with its sister casino Rivers). Very soon SugarHouse should get to launch its second online sportsbook, which is expected to be pretty much exactly like its successful effort in New Jersey, and also tied to an online casino.

Rivers

  • License date: Oct 31, 2018
  • Tech partners: Kambi, Rush Street
  • Other ties: SugarHouse

Alongside its sister SugarHouse, Rivers was one of the only PA sportsbooks to open a physical location in 2018 and will soon help expand Rush Street’s internet empire with its impending online launch.

FanDuel at Valley Forge Casino

  • License date: Dec 19, 2018
  • Tech partners: IGT, Betfair, GAN
  • Other ties: Valley Forge Casino Resort, Boyd Gaming

Fantasy giant FanDuel gained an inroad to Pennsylvania thanks to a recent arrangement with Boyd Gaming, which also recently acquired Valley Forge.

Valley Forge got its license approved by the state in December, with FanDuel separately receiving permission to come on board. The casino quickly then opened its physical FanDuel sportsbook within days of its approval in March 2019, and is just itching to launch the online site with the greatest potential of any of PA’s current candidates.

Mohegan Sun

  • License date: n/a
  • Tech partners: Kambi
  • Other ties: Kindred Group

Mohegan Sun Pocono has not yet acquired a sports betting license, only first applying on March 27, but it does have an arrangement with Kambi and its former parent Kindred to power a site once it does acquire one.

BetAmerica at Presque Isle Downs

  • License date: Feb 6, 2018
  • Tech partners: SG Digital
  • Other ties: Churchill Downs

Presque Isle Downs & Casino, which was acquired by Churchill Downs in 2018, will be using its license to host a sportsbook under the company’s BetAmerica brand. BetAmerica has also recently launched an online sportsbook and casino in New Jersey.

DraftKings at ???

  • License date: n/a
  • Tech partners: Kambi
  • Other ties: DraftKings Daily Fantasy Sports

DraftKings can likely become the leader in Pennsylvania if it can ever find a way into the state. Since outside operators cannot become qualified to offer sports betting without a local license, DraftKings is a potential empire in need of a partner.

Despite a contract with Caesars in other markets, it seems DK won’t be able to share in Harrah’s plans. Penn National would also have been a good choice if it wasn’t already tied to William Hill, since DraftKings is partnering with them in West Virginia.

Instead one of the remaining current or future license holders that have not already established branding plans will get to be the lucky partner of DraftKings PA.

BetStars

  • License date: n/a
  • Tech partners: The Stars Group (parent company)
  • Other ties: Mount Airy Casino, PokerStars

Mount Airy Casino Resort has announced a partnership with the Stars Group to bring both BetStars and PokerStars into Pennsylvania. Yet, though the poker room license was approved in short order, Mount Airy held off for months on applying for a sports betting license.

Finally, in late March 2019, Mount Airy took the dive, committing to a sports betting application. We expect the application to be approved at an upcoming PA Gaming Control Board meeting, as early as mid-May 2019.

The land-based books

To date eight physical sportsbooks are up-and-running in Pennsylvania, most of which will be pursuing online ventures very shortly. Additional casinos will be approved to launch sportsbooks in the near future, which should help correct the fact that almost all of the current ones are in or near Philadelphia.

CasinoSportsbookLaunch Date
Hollywood Casino at Penn NationalThe Sportsbook At Hollywood CasinoNov 15, 2018
SugarHouse CasinoSugarHouse Casino's SportsBookDec 13, 2018
Rivers CasinoRivers SportsbookDec 13, 2018
Parx CasinoParx Casino SportsbookJan 10, 2019
South Philadelphia Turf ClubSouth Philadelphia Race & SportsbookJan 17, 2019
Harrah's PhiladelphiaHarrah's Race & Sports BookJan 22, 2019
Valley Forge Casino ResortFanDuel Sportsbook at Valley ForgeMar 13, 2019
Valley Forge Turf ClubValley Forge Race & SportsbookMar 14, 2019
Presque Isle DownsBetAmerica SportsbookTBD

Casino sportsbooks

Most of the current sportsbooks are running out of Pennsylvania’s brick-and mortar casinos. Of these, SugarHouse, Harrah’s, Parx, and Valley Forge are in the Philadelphia area, with only Penn National in the more central part of the state and Rivers alone representing the west (Pittsburgh).

Off-track Sportsbooks

Currently, two other Parx properties, South Philadelphia Turf Club and Valley Forge Turf Club, have expanded beyond simple off-track race betting and now offer sports wagers as well.

More coming soon

Additional operators – for instance Mount Airy and Mohegan Sun – are pursuing sports betting operations but these plans are still developing.

Of the more immediate prospects, the most significant is Presque Isle Downs, which was approved in early February 2019 and is expected to launch very shortly. The Churchill Downs-owned property is also located in the northwest corner of the state near Lake Erie, and so will provide some more much needed geographic coverage.

Laws and regulations

In 1992 the United States banned all sports wagering (with the exception of some small grandfathered markets) under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. This law stood until the state of New Jersey fought a protracted legal battle from 2012 to 2017, eventually getting the act completely overturned by the Supreme Court in a ruling on May 14, 2018.

In the leadup to the Supreme Court case, Pennsylvania legislators passed a massive omnibus gambling package in October 2017 that included provisions paving the way for the sports betting industry, specifically allowing any operator licensed for slot machines to also open sportsbooks

With PASPA gone, Pennsylvania moved to become one of the first states to create its own legal framework for regulated sports betting.

A few specific details:

  • Operators are required to pay a $10 million fee for licenses, and submit specific plans for facilities to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for approval.
  • Third-party security assessments are required regularly.
  • A 36% tax rate (34% on gross gaming revenue and an additional 2% for local share assessment).
  • There is an extra 0.25% federal excise tax on total handle (equating to another roughly 5% of revenue).
  • No integrity fees.
  • Only one online sportsbook is allowed per license, and operators from outside the state will likely not be able to acquire any unused licenses as they can for other online gambling.

Pennsylvania was fortunate to get its laws settled before the arguments lobbying for integrity fees fully formed, and will likely avoid any data provisions unless these get unwisely forced on the states by Congress.

Nearly all the other significant aspects of these rules are unfortunately damaging to market potential. Compare to the flourishing sports betting industry in New Jersey, which has an effective tax rate of 8.5 -9.75% for land-based sportsbooks and about 13% for online.

The NJ operations are also allowed up to three online sportsbooks per license. However, unlike PA’s online casino and poker room licenses (which allow an unlimited number of skins) sports betting license holders are locked to only one online site and/or mobile app.

An additional restriction was added that every online sportsbook must prominently feature the branding of the licensed casino, which limits the marketing possibilities of outside potential partners. These rules plus the blocking of out-of-state qualified operators will serve to keep the number of online sportsbooks very small.

It has been feared these restrictions and high fees and taxes may make the regulatory environment of Pennsylvania a less profitable market than it should be, which may deter potential businesses from launching. However, even with tighter margins, there is still a significant amount of money to be made.

Pennsylvania has a population of 12.8 million people, many of them hardcore sports fans, and several million dollars in added revenues have already been enjoyed by the early sportsbooks.

The state managed $16 million in handle in its first full month of December 2018, half of which was with only one operator. This doubled in January, though experienced a very small decrease in February (both due to the shortness of the month and the fact that very little was happening after the Super Bowl).

With more new venues opened in time for March Madness, activity is expected to continue growing. And while the numbers seen in PA pale in comparison to what is being accomplished in NJ, they still have a chance to skyrocket if online launches soon.

History lesson: How Pennsylvania sportsbooks got this far

Pennsylvania first began opening casinos in the mid-2000s, initially in part to help bolster the declining horse racing industry. While at first only slot machines were available, table games and poker rooms got added in 2010.

The HB 271 omnibus expansion was in the works since 2013, when three other states launched online casinos, but was not signed into law until late 2017.

This expansion included multiple new avenues of gambling in the state, including:

  • The building of additional small satellite casinos,
  • The creation of Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) at specific physical businesses (truck stops),
  • The legalization of online casinos and poker rooms
  • The regulation of Daily Fantasy Sports

The first aspect of the new law to take effect was the online expansion of the state lottery, making PA one of the only states with the option (a small list which does not include the only states with online casinos or sportsbooks). The iLottery launched while gaming operators were still bidding on satellite licenses and forming proposals for websites.

While wagering on sporting events was not originally an option as the PASPA ban was still in effect nationally, provisions were added to the package in anticipation of the legal changes that would allow sportsbooks in the near future.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was given the authority to offer three types of online gaming licenses (for slot machines, table games, or poker) to each of the state’s casinos – or, if they passed on the option, to outside qualified operators pending approval.

When sports betting became a possibility these operators were likewise given the opportunity to apply to create physical and online sportsbooks as well, albeit with the aforementioned tighter skin restrictions. These limits, as well as the high tax rate, made Pennsylvania seem less hospitable toward sportsbooks than to the casinos (although things could have been worse, the state could have matched the onerous 54% tax burden it put on online slot machines).

Still, PA managed to get several physical sports wagering operations launched far sooner than any of its online casinos, despite less time afforded for development. Penn National became the first operator to launch a land-based sportsbook in November 2018, followed by Rush Street properties SugarHouse and Rivers a month later.

Since then the number of options has continued to climb, and the current operators are well on the way to launching mobile sports betting. This leaves the state in a great position to become one of the nation’s most successful online gambling markets in the near future.