Pennsylvania authorities made two moves Aug. 15 that push forward gambling expansion in the state. Regulation approvals at the meeting involving online betting as well as sports gambling pave the way for several new gaming sites to launch - but will likely have little immediate impact on the state’s long-stalled sports gambling industry.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved three casinos to take online bets at its most recent meeting. This final check off from the PGCB means Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack, Parx Casino in Bethlehem as well as Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono can take bets as soon as they pass further inspection for their online service providers and equipment. Eight other casinos have also applied to the board and could have their applications approved in the coming months.
However there’s no timeline for when any of these casinos can start taking online bets, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Still, online casino sites in Pennsylvania are far ahead of their sports betting equivalents.
Officials removed an important hurdle for sports betting by finalizing its regulations Aug 15. It formalized rules to permit betting on college sports, a contentious issue for the state’s flagship university. But it did little to actually bring sports betting to the state.
As of Aug. 16, none of the state’s 13 licensed casinos have applied to take bets. The state charges a $10 million fee on all casinos in order to take sports wagers, then taxes more than 30 percent of its winnings, which is one of the highest tax rates in the world. For comparison, neighboring New Jersey taxes less than 10 percent of sports bet winnings.
This deterred would-be applicants. Casinos and gambling stakeholders have lobbied lawmakers to change the tax rate, but officials have shown little inclination they’ll do so. Gov. Tom Wolf seems unlikely to call a special session of lawmakers to amend the bill, meaning any changes wouldn’t come until the legislature reconvenes in January 2019.
Exorbitant fees stalled online gaming as well. Casinos resisted paying the $10 million required to offer online slots, poker and table games for several months before they ran up against a state-created deadline that raised the fees even higher. It remains to be seen if casinos will bite the bullet and will go after sports betting, even with the fee.
Casinos still wouldn’t be able to automatically take bets even if they filled an application today. The PGCB has to evaluate all applicants and won’t reconvene to give its authorization until its next regularly scheduled meeting Sep. 12. The Danville News reports officials believe October would be the earliest possible approval date even if a casino applied in August, meaning in a best-case scenario it would miss a significant portion of betting opportunities during the lucrative college and professional football seasons.
That creates a stark situation compared to the action across the Delaware River.
New Jersey spearheaded the legal challenge to the federal ban on sports betting and is already seeing the benefits.
The Garden State has taken in more than $40 million in bets since it accepted wagers two months ago . With gaming facilities outside New York City, as well as a growing number of casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey is poised to re-establish itself as the top gaming center on the east coast and possibly the largest gambling market in the U.S., even ahead of Nevada.
The fifth-largest state in the U.S. by population, Pennsylvania could quickly assert itself as its own force to be reckoned with in gambling. But with New York evaluating legalized sports betting of its own, and a host of states in the Midwest considering gambling expansions as well, this current sports betting quagmire could leave Pennsylvania even further behind.
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