Despite its self-proclaimed status as the 'leader of the free world’, it remains remarkably difficult to place a bet in America. Casinos are opening up across many states, but to actually wager on sports becomes quite a task for many residents of the United States.
Outside of Nevada and New Jersey, having a flutter is a tough assignment. But new doors are creaking ajar, with some states deciding to relax legislation relating to gambling. The latest to join the party – Pennsylvania – could perhaps open the floodgates to a wider proliferation of online betting opportunities in the US.
A motion was carried recently to pass House Bill 271, a new legal framework that could see restrictions on both ‘physical’ and online gambling lifted in the state. Until now, betting was only allowed in the ten satellite casinos and at other qualifying locations, but House Bill 271 paves the way for current casino operators to extend their offering to online gaming.
This includes slots and table games, as well as potentially legalising online lotteries and daily fantasy sports. The House voted in favour of the bill, which means that all that stands between it becoming law is the signature of Governor Tom Wolf.
Under the provisions of the paper, the 12 operators currently going about their business in Pennsylvania will be offered the first opportunity to purchase an online license. But if they opt not to, then other commercial ventures will be handed the chance to enter the industry.
As things stand, Governor Wolf can now take up to ten days to review the bill and decide whether to sign it into law or veto it and prevent the house vote being carried. Intriguingly, if he decides not to sign the bill but chooses not to veto it either, it will automatically become law.
Most pundits in the state believe that Wolf will allow the bill to pass, while noting that it is one of the toughest decisions he will have to make in his tenure. Assuming the Governor puts pen to paper, Pennsylvania will become the fourth state to legalise online gambling, after Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
This decisions comes with obvious commercial and financial benefits to the area – all gambling winnings are taxed in the US, after all. The proposals have been met with positivity, by and large, with Joe Weinert, the executive vice president of the Spectrum Gaming Group, stating that:
"This is one of the most aggressive expansions of gambling we’ve seen in any state." He added that the new law "...could bring in a significant amount of revenue for the state, especially in the form of internet gaming."
Meanwhile, John Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), said:
"Pennsylvania made the right decision today. This is a major victory for consumers who, for years, have asked the state to step up and provide meaningful protections. The iGaming law will also help create new growth opportunities for the Commonwealth’s brick-and-mortar casinos while providing needed revenue for the state budget."
But as is often the case in such scenarios, not everyone is happy with the proposed plans. Penn National Gaming, which operates the Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, has objected to the concept of satellite casinos gaining an edge.
"We are beyond disappointed by the legislature's ill-conceived and hasty gaming expansion plan," the senior vice president of public affairs, Eric Schippers, commented. "It will have a uniquely punitive impact on our Hollywood Casino."
Dating back to the Prohibition era in the early 1900s, the United States has always had a complex relationship with gambling. But in 1929, betting within the four walls of a casino was legalised in the state of Nevada – a commercial move designed to ease the burden of the famous stock market crash.
Las Vegas became the premier location for gambling in the 1950s and 60s, at which point the state of New Jersey legalised wagering in Atlantic City. There was a boom in the popularity of internet-fuelled mass gambling opportunities worldwide in the 90s, but the US remained largely ambivalent to its charms – as it does to this day.
The terms of the Federal Wire Act of 1961, enhanced further by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, made it illegal to engage in online gambling in any form. But this latest news from Pennsylvania means that there are set to be four large states in which punters can have a flutter online. It'll be interesting to see how many more follow in the coming years.