Back in 2006, the idea of Pennsylvania one day becoming the nation’s second biggest casino market was unfathomable. But the issuing of the state’s first standalone casino licenses late that year would hail the beginning of a new era in the Keystone State’s gambling history.
By the time table games were introduced in 2010, Pennsylvania’s casino industry was in the midst of a boom. Suddenly gamblers from New York City and New Jersey viewed Pennsylvania casinos as a better, closer alternative to Atlantic City.
Pennsylvania has its aggressive expansion and marketing model to thank for the success of its casino industry. But aggression comes with a price. These days, PA’s b&m casinos are struggling to exhibit year-over-year growth, leading lawmakers to look for a new revenue outlet.
That outlet: online gambling. Pennsylvania has been flirting with the idea of introducing an iGaming market since 2013. But it wasn’t until an online gambling study reported highly optimistic findings that lawmakers began taking the issue seriously. Currently, Pennsylvania is considered by many the second-most likely state, behind California, to pass iGaming legislation.
Can Players from Pennsylvania Play Real Money Poker Online?
While there is no one law that specifically prohibits grinders from playing online poker in Pennsylvania, there isn’t a provision regulating it either. At the time of this writing, poker players from the state are best off mixing it up at one of its many live poker rooms.
However, players residing in European nations will find a swarm of real money online poker websites to choose from.
Is Online Poker Legal in Pennsylvania?
Gambling law is a complex topic, and Pennsylvania’s gambling statutes do little to clarify what’s permitted and what isn’t – only a legal authority, versed it gambling law, can do that.
What we can do is attempt to provide you with the very basics of Pennsylvania gambling law. Unfortunately, even that may prove difficult, as the statutes fail to define what constitutes gambling.
As per section 5512(d) unlawful is defined as
not specifically authorized by law. That would imply that all forms of unregulated gambling are prohibited. Unfortunately, without a definition of gambling that tells us virtually nothing.
Generally speaking, gambling is defined as wagering something of value on an uncertain outcome. Whether or not games like poker that involve skill are considered gambling has been the subject of many debates over the past several years. The best indicator as to PA’s stance on the matter is a decision issued by a Pennsylvania judge in 2009, who declared that skill is the
predominant factor in long term success .
Also of note, playing cards are not considered to be a gambling device. This at least hints at the legality of social home poker games, although the law makes no mention of the issue.
Owning a gambling device, defined as
any punch board, drawing card, slot machine or any device to be used for gambling purposes, is a criminal offense, punishable as a first degree misdemeanor. Operators, regardless of the size of their operation, are also guilty of misdemeanors of the first degree.
Players are seemingly exempt from the law, not because the law indicates as much, but because no specific penalties for players are outlined in the statutes.
Very few state gambling laws are as vague as Pennsylvania’s, so the fact that online poker or Internet gambling is not mentioned once in the statutes should come as little surprise.
- April 2013: State Rep. Tina Davis introduces House Bill 1235 , the state’s first attempt at iGaming legislation. In an effort to keep pace with New Jersey’s legislative movement, the bill would legalize both online poker and casino-style gambling.
- June 2013: Due to insufficient interest among legislatures, Davis announces that she’s in favor of shelving her bill until 2015. In the meantime, a draft version of a new bill begins to generate buzz.
- December 2013: SR 273 is passed by the Pennsylvania State Senate. The resolution tasks Econsult Solutions with conducting a study that would measure the potential effects of online gambling on the state.
- January 2014: Pennsylvania’s brick and mortar casinos report their first losses since the industry went live in 2006, prompting legislatures to more seriously consider the prospect of online gambling.
- Early-May 2014: The results of the study are cause for optimism, indicating that online gambling would have a beneficial effect on b&m casino growth and the state economy. Forecasts project that Internet gambling would generate $68 million in first year tax revenue, and $110 million annually moving forward.
- June 17, 2014: State Sen. Edwin Erickson introduces SB 1386, which would seemingly legalize both online poker and casinos. The bill calls for a 14% tax rate and an operator licensing fee of $5 million.
Pennsylvania Gambling History
Pennsylvania’s recorded gambling history dates back to the days when George Washington would frequent the Philadelphia Jockey Club. But it wouldn’t be until the 1920’s and the Age of Prohibition that gambling began to run rampant. This trend would accelerate throughout the 1930s and early-1940’s, facilitated by the
look the other way attitude of local authorizes. It was around this time that government, in an attempt to satiate the masses and to spark the state’s struggling economy, did away with the century-old ban on horseracing.
It wouldn’t be until 1971 that the next form of gambling the lottery would be legalized. That year, a statewide lottery was implemented. Ten years and a bevy of scandalous activity later, a new regulatory framework governing lottery related activities was imposed. Bingo would be legalized in 1981, but efforts to construct commercial casinos to compete with Atlantic City’s burgeoning industry fell on deaf ears.
Finally, in 2004 the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board  was founded, and by late-2006 11 racinos and stand-alone facilities were granted the right to house slot terminals. Four years later, the first table games emerged in the state, precipitating a full-on casino boom that would last until 2014.
Regulated Gambling Options in Pennsylvania
All forms of gambling outside of tribal casinos are permitted within Pennsylvania’s borders. That’s a far cry from the situation a decade ago, when residents of the state were forced to travel to Atlantic City or elsewhere to get their action fix. Either that or content themselves with betting on horses or participating in statewide and multi-jurisdiction jackpot lotteries.
But today, Pennsylvania hosts the second most prosperous gambling industry in the nation, second only to Sin City.
Other Recent Headlines
It appears that industry leader Parx Casino is prepping itself for entry into the iGaming arena, evidenced by its plans to launch a play money casino in Q4 2014 .
The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Pennsylvania
If 2013 was Pennsylvania’s courtship period with online gambling, than 2014 was its engagement. Spurred by the optimistic results of Econsult’s findings and falling b&m casino revenues, Pennsylvania appears to be on the fast-track towards regulating Internet gambling.
With most of the state’s casino representatives either already onboard or willing to go along with online gambling (Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson withstanding), it’s exceedingly likely that PA will roll out its iGaming operation by early-2016. If that operation will include all forms of casino gambling or just poker is anyone’s guess. But until then expect Pennsylvania lawmakers to enhance their knowledge of the industry and to continue debating the particulars of the next legislative draft.