Home to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has extended its warm feelings to the world of land casinos. However, while the state, like many on America's East Coast, has welcomed a limited form of gambling and poker tournaments, it is still lagging behind its neighbours, such as Delaware, when it comes to the growing online side of the industry.
Pennsylvania took the first steps towards a liberalised gambling market in 2004, after the state legislature passed a law that permitted horse racing, slots and electronic table games, as well as a licencing system for physical casinos. The road to legalising real table games took a lot longer, though, with legislation finally being passed in 2010. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was formed alongside the initial bill to oversee all gambling industry activity. This new approach was greeted with massive public approval, after Governor Ed Rendell tied the state's share of casino profits to property tax relief.
Under the new laws, a maximum of 14 casinos were allowed to operate within the state, with 12 having currently opened their doors to the public. These institutions have so far helped to make Pennsylvania the “second most lucrative casino market” in America, taking over from New Jersey but still lagging behind the historic Nevada. With the state now close to reaching its physical limit and no provisions to extend the law, it is following in the footsteps of its neighbours and starting to explore the lucrative potential of online casinos. The first steps towards online gambling legislation were taken when state representative Tina Davis introduced a bill that would have allowed existing casinos to offer online games, while a new draft bill is currently circulating that proposes the same measures with a lower tax burden on operators.
In December 2013 the Pennsylvania Senate Committee for Community, Economic and Recreational Development voted unanimously to launch a study into how viable online gambling could be for the state. This came just a month after legal online casinos went live in nearby Delaware and New Jersey. However, a week later, CBS Philadelphia conducted a poll that showed public opinion had turned during the decade that physical casinos have been in operation, with almost two in every three people now opposing online gambling.
Despite the advances, horse racing remains the only legal sports betting activity in the state, with six racinos spread across the commonwealth. Four of these tracks, including Philadelphia Park, Penn National, The Meadows and Mohegan Sun, have off-site betting facilities in a number of different districts, so those that cannot attend the races can still place a wager.
Since table games were made legal, though, there has been a huge surge in their popularity. Poker is particularly popular, and Pennsylvania is becoming a hot bed for professional and upcoming poker players.
Pennsylvania has a large number of enthusiastic poker players, and local fans of the game can enjoy the live World Series of Poker event at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino, stretching from late April into early May each year. Local casino chain Hollywood Casino also runs a number of regional series at its various resorts, with the winners claiming a seat at the main championship tournament held in its Las Vegas venue.
Pennsylvania still has the potential to open another two physical casinos before it reaches its maximum limit of 14. If that limit is ever reached, lawmakers may seek to legalise online gambling, rather than trying to expand the current laws. However, in addition to contending with the public's lack of enthusiasm for the online market, any plans for expansion onto the internet may also be challenged by one of the state’s own casinos. What's more, Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp (parent company of the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), has also launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling - the group has been formed to petition politicians to stop the “proliferation of online gambling.” Yet given that its stately neighbours and gambling industry rivals have already hopped on board the online gambling train, it seems likely that Pennsylvania will be joining them sooner rather than later.
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