Pennsylvania, along with New Jersey, was one of the states pushing in the courts for the right to legalize sports gambling. The Keystone state has long been one of the most proactive statehouses when it comes to legalizing gambling. They’ve advocated for all types of gambling, but especially sports betting. When the Supreme Court ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, or PASPA, unconstitutional, Pennsylvania was ready to act, and act they did.
As mentioned, Pennsylvania has continually worked hard to legalize any and all forms of gambling for the state. The work to get legalized sports gambling in the state began well before the PASPA was found to be unconstitutional. The ball first started rolling in 2015 when Rep. Kotik issued a memo regarding a piece of legislation:
I plan to introduce legislation that will legalize sports betting in our Pennsylvania licensed casinos. – Rep. Kotik
“In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that will legalize sports betting in our Pennsylvania licensed casinos. Sports betting is exceptionally popular in our state and it is going unregulated. The intent of this legislation is to provide our casinos with an alternative form of entertainment, while also, regulating a popular market.”
Kotik followed through on October 14 by introducing H 1627 into the House, which sought to repeal the state’s prohibition on betting on sports. In December, Matzie spearheaded a resolution aimed toward Congress. H 619 urged Congress to repeal the federal ban on sports betting, allowing Pennsylvania and other states to legalize, license, and regulate it:
“States that already authorize, license and regulate casino gaming are uniquely positioned to oversee sports betting, in all its forms, if they so choose. The time has come for the federal government to allow the state’s to make their own decisions on sports betting.”
The following January, the House Gaming Oversight Committee took up Rep. Matzie’s resolution. The committee passed it as did the House. The resolution didn’t do anything from a practical standpoint. However, it put Matzie at the forefront of Pennsylvania sports betting legalization.
Rep. Rob Matzie introduced H 519 as a follow-up to Kotik‘s bill. The new bill went several steps further, though, and in addition to modifying constitutional language, H 519 directed the PGCB to promulgate regulations “establishing the rules and procedures for sports wagering.” It laid out the outline for legalized and regulated sports betting in Pennsylvania. The bill included a $5 million licensing fee and an 18 percent tax on revenue. Any effects of the bill were to be on hold until a decision was rendered in the Supreme Court case of Christie vs. NCAA.
The House Gaming Oversight Committee signed off on the bill in April. While all of that had been going on in the sports betting arena, other lawmakers had been pushing for more comprehensive gaming expansion. The state was dealing with a huge budget deficit and at a stalemate on how to fix it. Gaming, and specifically online gambling, was occasionally used as leverage in the discussions. Some saw it as a way to slow the financial leak, and the matter dropped in and out debate over several months.
H 271 ended up being the pivotal piece of legislation, to legalize sports betting in Pennsylvania.
The bill was introduced in January by Rep. Jason Ortitay. At first, it had the modest goal of modifying the state’s problem gambling hotline. Lawmakers indicated that it was hiding bigger ambitions. Rep. George Dunbar said that the bill was intended to be a vehicle for a comprehensive gaming package. “We put in one thing, tablets in airports, and basically said, ‘You load it up with what you want in it,’” Dunbar said.
The bill went through several changes over the next few months and in its sixth version, the House added in Matzie’s sports betting provisions. It went through one more revision before being passed by the General Assembly. On October 30, Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law, officially legalizing sports betting in Pennsylvania, pending the coming change in federal law.
Brick and Mortar Sportsbooks
Pennsylvania sports betting is officially here, and they now have four sportsbooks up and running in the state. For now, all Pennsylvania sports betting operations are designated as retail-only. However, that will change as 2019 continues. There may only be four as of now, but many more are on the way. Here’s where you can place a sports wager in Pennsylvania today.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course became the first sportsbook to officially and legally open in Pennsylvania. The casino started its Pennsylvania sports betting shop in November 2018. William Hill runs the sportsbook at Hollywood and is located in central Pennsylvania.
Rivers Casino accepted its first sports bets in Pennsylvania in December 2018. Perfectly situated as a neighbor close to Heinz Field and PNC Park, Rivers should attract a very strong following in Pittsburgh. Rush Street Interactive and Kambi power this operation.
SugarHouse followed Rivers, its sister property, into the Pennsylvania sports betting market on the very same day in December 2018. SugarHouse became the first sports betting option in Philadelphia. The current sportsbook is temporary and will be upgraded this year. This is also a Rush Street Interactive/Kambi shop.
Parx Casino is located just outside Philadelphia and joined the Pennsylvania sports betting wave in January 2019. The temporary sportsbook is a combination of windows and self-service kiosks, and Kambi runs the operation. More work is expected to continue well into 2019 before the new and improved Parx Casino sportsbook is up and running.
There are no online options as of yet for sports betting in Pennsylvania. However, they are coming and will be up and running in 2019. Pennsylvania is far from done with adding as many sports gambling products as they can. Because they are located in the northeast corridor of the U.S., they are going to have some stiff competition from rival states, especially when New York joins the fray sometime in 2019 or 2020. With four sportsbooks already in action, online options are inevitable.