Believe it or not, Pennsylvania has a very rich history of gambling in their state and even used the popular past-time to do their part in the community. Of course, some people will always see gambling as criminal and sinful, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, Act 91, which was signed into law in 1971, allowed citizens to play the lottery, with proceeds going towards paying property taxes for seniors.
Pennsylvania also legalized gambling on horse racing in 1959, when the Racehorse Industry Reform Act was signed into law. The Meadows racetrack became the first venue to open under the new act in 1963. The state also legalized gambling on horse racing in several off-site locations and allowed citizens to bet on simulcast races. Greyhound racing was still illegal though.
And then there were games of chance, which were legalized in 1988 by the Pennsylvania Local Option Small Games of Chance Act. The measure allowed limited gambling in non-profits organizations and for-profit taverns, including punchboards, pull tab games, daily raffles, race night games, and pools.
Pennsylvania pushes for more
Once Pennsylvanians had a taste of the gambling bug, a lot of citizens pushed hard for casinos to open in the state during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately for those that wanted to live a little dangerously, polls were taken on the possibility of legalizing casinos In Pennsylvania, and resulted in an overwhelming majority of citizens voting no.
A lot of citizens ignored the potential tax revenue and continued to take issue with how gambling was seen as crime-infested at the time. They even cited Nevada, which was one of the first states to legalize casino gambling, as an example of what kind of crime can come from having casinos in the area.
Another push to legalize casinos came in 1993, when voters started calling for gambling to take place on boats. Although proponents of the idea claimed it would create more income for the state and could go towards several social programs, this still wasn’t enough to convince folks. A majority of the citizens still saw gambling in the area as immoral, a hotbed for crime, and a way to put local communities at risk.
Pennsylvania tried legalizing casinos one more time in 1999, by putting in place a referendum that would have allowed voters to decide on slot machines at designated racetracks, online poker, and the potential authorization of riverboat casinos. The referendum was never scheduled for a vote however, and died a relatively quiet death in the legislature.
Pennsylvania passes bill to legalize casinos
Finally, Pennsylvania passed legislation to legalize casinos in 2004. The bill, named the Pennsylvania Racehorse Development and Gambling Act, established the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and legalized gambling at casinos and betting at tracks. This piece of legislation was a very big first step in the ongoing trend of legalizing gambling in the US and in Pennsylvania, and really reflected the changing views of citizens.
While previous generations saw gambling as nothing more than an excuse for crime and immoral behavior to take place, the next generation saw it as a great way to generate revenue for the state. Furthermore, the jobs created by the casinos alone were enough to make this a very lucrative deal for everyone involved. If nothing else, gambling was no longer seen as sinful, but rather as a source of revenue and job opportunities.
One example of this was that much of the money gained through the legalization of this bill went to helping towards taxes, at a time of economic recession. Pennsylvania also ended up generating over a billion dollars of revenue in the course of that first year, creating more calls for legalized gambling.
Casinos in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania currently is home to 12 different casinos, including the Valley Forge Casino resort, the Meadows Racetrack and Casinos, and Harrah’s Philadelphia. The initial deal in 2004 authorized seven horse racing tracks, five casinos and two resort casinos. While resort casinos could play slot machines thanks to the 2004 bill, it wouldn’t be until 2010 that citizens would be able to play tabletop games.
The most popular of these casinos would turn out to be the Mohegan, located in the Pocono mountains. Not only is the facility described by visitors as a relaxed casino/racetrack setting, it also has something for everyone in the family to enjoy, which is why it has the reputation as one of the best casino’s in the world. The scenery is also beautiful, especially in the fall months of the year.
Legalizing online poker in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s success eventually warranted the passage of another bill in 2017 that expanded gambling to truck stops, airports and even online! The state also legalized sports betting in this bill, which included sites like Fanduel, Draftkings, Boomfantasy, Yahoo fantasy sports, and fantasy sports more generally. This bill was signed into law by then-Governor Tom Wolfe, who reportedly disagreed with parts of the legislation, but wanted to appease his constituents with new revenue opportunities
“There’s been a lot of pressure from a lot of places in the commonwealth to actually expand this and we do need some recurring revenue,” Wolf told reporters. “Again, the goal has been all along to do what’s prudent, not cannibalize existing gambling revenue coming to the state, and I think what we’re settling on will actually do that.”
Online poker offshore and Black Friday
Before this law was passed, online poker players mostly played on offshore gambling sites that would allow U.S citizens to play for real money. This lasted until Black Friday of 2011, when these poker sites restricted access to United States players, which opened the door for several states to legalize the activity.
Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be until 2013 that the Pennsylvania state legislature even considered making online gambling legal for citizens. Unfortunately for proponents of this bill, it would take the legislature four years to pass and another two years for the state of Pennsylvania to launch their own app to allow online poker rooms. Many other companies did join the fray throughout that summer though.
According to The Pennsylvania gaming control board, industry operators earned 3.3 billion dollars from revenue in 2018 and the government took home 1.34 million as well that year. Machines would account for over half of all revenue earned, with tabletop games bringing in 886 thousand dollars of revenue for the industry.