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Pennsylvania

Just a decade ago, nobody would have thought of Pennsylvania as one of America’s leading destinations for casino gambling. But that all changed over the course of just a few short years, as the state went through a tremendous round of gaming expansion to become the second-biggest gaming revenue producing state in the country, trailing only Nevada.

That has made the state a powerhouse in the Northeast, biting into the market once controlled almost exclusively by Atlantic City in neighboring New Jersey, a state that is now fully regulated. But with many states in the region now looking to fire back with expansion efforts of their own, Pennsylvania is looking once again at ways to expand its presence in the industry, and online gambling has been seen as one way that this could be possible.

No Online Regulation (Yet), But Plenty of Options Available

At the moment, the state government has yet to implement any form of Internet gambling legislation, though there have certainly been talks. In spite of this, there are still plenty of online casinos in Pennsylvania that cater to residents. Regulation will bring the likes of WMS, IGT and Bally banging at the doors to power state-licensed casinos. But until that time, games by Pragmatic Play, Betsoft and a handful of other providers will have to suffice.

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Expansion Turns State Into Gambling Leader

Until 2005, there were no legal casinos operating in the state of Pennsylvania. But that changed when the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs (known now as Mohegan Sun Pocono) started offering slot machines for visitors in 2006. That move made it the first venue in PA legally hosting slots, a monumental moment for the state’s gaming industry.

It would be far from the last one to be opened. Several other racinos opened, as well as a number of standalone casinos that now dot the landscape. As of the time of writing, there are 12 casinos in the state, with a 13th expected to soon open.

Many of these venues are located relatively near Philadelphia, with SugarHouse actually being hosted within the city itself (the Live! Hotel and Casino will soon join it within the city limits). Pittsburgh is also home to a standalone facility, known as the Rivers Casino. As of 2010, these facilities are also allowed to host table games, bringing a wider range of options to gamblers who visit or live in the state.

Beyond full casinos, there are also plenty of other ways to gamble throughout the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Lottery offers not only its own games, but also participates in multistate jackpots like Powerball and Mega Millions. There is also horse racing at several tracks, as well as off-track betting at many locations.

In 2013, expansion was taken a step further by lawmakers, who decided to allow bars and clubs to offer “small games of chance” with a proper license. These could potentially include drawings and raffles, as well as pull-tab games, as long as the prizes offered fell within limits (such as a $2,000 maximum prize for any single game).

Surprisingly, however, few bars and taverns actually applied for the licenses. According to owners, the costs attached to the applications, as well as the long process, dissuaded many from doing so, and by mid-2014, less than two dozen bars had been issued licenses: far less than the 2,000 that the state had predicted. Regulators agreed to cut the fees associated with the process in order to encourage more businesses to apply, but the program still hasn’t been nearly as successful or popular as many had hoped.

Online Casinos Get a Serious Look

Despite the rapid pace of development in the state’s gaming sector, there have been some lawmakers expressing concerns that the state may be falling behind some of its neighbors, or at least need to take steps to stay ahead in the increasingly competitive market of the northeastern United States. With New York and Massachusetts set to add new resorts, Delaware and Maryland having gone through their own rounds of expansion, and New Jersey adding online gambling, it’s possible that Pennsylvania’s dominant position might not last for much longer.

Having looked at the relative success of Internet gaming for Atlantic City’s casinos, a few legislators have pushed bills in PA, though the contents of those laws has varied. Some would allow for only Internet poker, while others authorized the full range of casino games.

In November 2015, the first of these bills started to see some movement in the state legislature. State Representative John Payne pushed his legislation, HB 649, through the House Gaming Oversight Committee, which he chairs. It was the first time an Internet gaming bill had been passed through a committee in the state’s history, being approved by an 18-8 margin. The law provides not only for online gambling, but also for slot machines to be installed at airports and off-track betting facilities in the state.

That passage provides some hope that regulated online gaming could become a reality in the state through the normal legislative process. However, it’s more likely that lawmakers could decide to include such a measure in the budget in 2016 or a later year. There is a large deficit in the budget, and gambling expansion – including on the Internet – has been floated as a possible way to bring in new revenue.

Because of these possibilities, Pennsylvania has been floated by many as the favorite to become the next state to regulate Internet gambling within its borders. While that’s still far from certain, the odds here are quite good: it is clear that the government has few qualms about expanding betting options in the state, and there aren’t the kind of factional disputes that have made progress so much harder in California. That, combined with the pending opening of a second resort in Philadelphia, make Pennsylvania a state worth keeping an eye on for gamblers in the years to come.

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