The state of Pennsylvania has been trying for years to get the ball rolling on sports betting, and today it finally was able to announce a prospective start date.
By December 1st, the state is slated to accept its first sports bets at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, one of the sports hubs of the state with the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins all in town.
Thanks to the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board finally approving the Rivers Casino’s license just a few days ago, the casino will be fully allowed to accept sports wagers.
All that’s left for the casino is to pass some regulatory tests and then its smooth sailing until the big day. The state would hence become the seventh to allow sports betting, although if not for some governmental holdups, it could’ve been the second.
Gambling has been a major talking and policy point for the state since back in October 2017. Pennsylvania passed one of the most substantial gambling bills any state has ever enacted and sent a message that it would be one of the forerunners for gambling expansion across the nation.
If Rivers Casino can pass a final set of regulatory tests, it could take a bet as early as Dec. 1. Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, which likewise received approval from the PGCB earlier this week, also hopes to take bets that date.
If approved, the two facilities will usher in legal sports betting for the Keystone State after more than a year of delays.
Pennsylvania had the potential to be the second state in the nation with legal sports betting. Instead it will have to settle for seventh.
State lawmakers passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive gambling expansion bills in October 2017. Along with gaming terminals at state airports and truck stops as well as online casino gambling, the bill authorized state casino to take sports bets once they received further regulatory approval.
The sports betting caveat was preempted by a federal ban, but it came into state law in May when the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the sports betting prohibition. In theory, that meant Pennsylvania could take a bet that same day.
Instead, Pennsylvanians would have to wait more than six months due to the bill, which included one of the world’s most burdensome tax rates.
At 36% of profits, it was nearly four times higher than rates in neighboring Delaware and New Jersey, the first two states to take bets after the ban was overturned (Nevada was exempt and has taken bets legally since the 1940’s).
This dissuaded any of the state’s 13 licensed gaming facilities from applying to take bets. They decried the fees as unnecessarily burdensome and publicly petitioned lawmakers to change the law.
Those pleas were not taken up in Harrisburg. Any approved legislation goes through an arduous negotiation process, one lawmakers seldom revisit after a bill has passed. Plus legislators could tout the high revenue returns on these taxes to their constituents.
Lawmakers also looked to pacify the state’s popular lottery, which feared encroachment on its own revenue opportunities with the expanded gaming measures. With portions of revenues designated directly to programs for senior citizens, legislators hoped to enlarge gambling opportunities without too drastically reallocating the revenue streams away from the government-sponsored lottery and into privately held casinos.
This led to a stalemate. Casinos, though technically eligible to take bets, never filled the application (The $10 million application fee itself was likewise a point of contention). As the Delaware and New Jersey markets boomed, Pennsylvania was left behind. Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico also began taking bets while Pennsylvania floundered.
After several months, several casinos relented. The millions of dollars wagered across the country proved too much to pass up, even with the exorbitant taxes. Starting in August with Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, four other facilities submitted applications.
Now, more than 13 months after elected officials legalized sports betting, the Keystone State has an expected date to take a wager.
All that delay now can be a distant memory. As these holdups have made redolently clear, final regulatory approval is no sure thing, but assuming these casinos receive permission, Pennsylvania will take bets before the end of the NFL season.
With facilities in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia set to take the first batch of wagers, it means two of the nation’s largest population centers will have legal sports betting. More significantly, Rivers and SugarHouse are convenient to the home stadiums of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.
That means the tantalizing prospect of fans placing a bet on their favorite teams before entering the stadium. This is commonplace ahead of sporting events in Europe, but constitutes a massive paradigm shift in the game-day experience of in the U.S.
The likely inauguration of in-person sports betting next month will foreshadow an even bigger shift in Pennsylvania sports betting.
Casinos are advancing their plans and regulations for online sports betting. Sometime next year, anyone in the commonwealth could place a legal wager through a licensed site from the comfort of home with the convenience of a mobile device.
Pennsylvania will likely be the third or fourth state, behind Nevada, New Jersey and possibly West Virginia, to take a legal bet online, likely sometime in the first few months of 2019. As the fifth-most populated state in the country, it will be far and away the most populated to take a bet either online or in person.
It also presents the biggest domino yet in the slow progression of U.S. sports betting. With a state as large as Pennsylvania taking bets, it influences other states in the region, especially other heavily populated states like New York and Ohio, to respond with their own legalization efforts.
Though it hasn’t always been easy, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for Pennsylvania sports betting. If the progress of other states are any indication, the delay will be worth the wait.