Pennsylvania Online Sports Betting – Secure Legal Wagering Anywhere In The State!

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, the Keystone State has finally begun launching online options for sports gamblers. Many licenses have been granted by the state regulatory board, so even more only sportsbooks will continue to launch as they become fully ready. This temporarily makes Pennsylvania the only state besides neighboring New Jersey with a truly formidable real-world and internet sports wagering market.

Very recently state regulators announced a target date for online casinos and poker to launch only July 15, 2019. The state regulatory board is continuing to test online sportsbooks, so more and more launched are likely in the coming days.

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 overlaps significantly with the other forms of internet gambling (casino, poker) that are forthcoming in the market. Getting started as the sites  launch is 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 employs 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 resident of Pennsylvania to wager online, just present.

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 is if an individual is specifically flagged as being not allowed.

For instance, this occurs either if a person had been banned by the state board or has chosen to added themselves 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 offer a fast registration process that requires 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 some cases). Other identifying information like DOB and address can also 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 or sister sites, so if you are already active on such sites may not even need to create a new account and can just begin placing wagers.

For an example, PlaySugarHouse requires a new account for Pennsylvania even if you have one for the NJ site, but allows quick importing of your data from that state for instant registration.

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 Pennsylvania is no exception.

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 of the 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.

PayPal was thankfully made available on some PA sites from launch. The service was delayed as an option in the NJ casino market at first but has since become fully established at most sites, and while some were concerned that the new DOJ statements on the Wire Act have dissuaded PayPal from entering another market this fear did not come to pass.

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 are only beginning to launch. PlaySugarHouse was the first lucky operator to get a crack at the untapped market, but in the coming weeks more sites will be joining the fray.

SugarHouse (soon to be renamed Rivers Casino Philadelphia)

  • Launch date: Soft open on May 28, 2019, official start May 31.
  • License date: Oct 31, 2018
  • Tech partners: Kambi, Rush Street
  • Other ties: Rivers Pittsburgh, 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).

PlaySugarHouse.com has now also managed to launch the very first online site in the state, which shares its domain and site design as its other successful sportsbook in New Jersey (also tied to its online casino). The PA version has also kept the same amazing iRush Rewards loyalty program, probably the best in the industry.

SugarHouse now has an opportunity to quickly cement itself as the leader in the market, building up a solid online customer base that will allow it to temporarily dominate the state until it eventually loses control to FanDuel sometime down the line.

Rivers Casino Pittsburgh

  • Launch date: Expected any day now…
  • 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 (expected any day, now that PlaySugarHouse has successfully launched).

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.

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: May 15, 2019
  • Tech partners: Kambi
  • Other ties: Kindred Group

Mohegan Sun Pocono acquired a sports betting license in May, after finally applying on March 27. It has an arrangement with Kambi and its former parent Kindred Group to power the site, which likely won’t launch until after the physical sportsbook this fall.

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-June 2019.

Wind Creek Bethlehem

  • License date: n/a
  • Tech partners: n/a
  • Other ties: n/a

Wind Creek Hospitality, the gaming entity for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, has finally finished its acquisition of the former Sands Bethlehem casino property.

While the operator is busy setting up an online casino and poker room ,which is hoped to launch in the fall of 2019, things are still extremely vague about the potential sports betting offering. Representatives have expressed an interest in pursuing a sportsbook but have not committed to any plans or specified any details.

It is likely more information will quickly become available if and when a tech partner is announced.

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 now that online has launched.

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 options continue to climb.

Rush Street was also the first to breach the online market with PlaySugarHouse.com in May of 2019 (and Rivers presumably any day now). These developments leave the state in a great position to become one of the nation’s most successful online gambling markets in the near future.