Pennsylvania Sports Betting Begins with Hollywood Casino

Pennsylvania Sports Betting Begins with Hollywood Casino

Pennsylvania has taken its first sports bet. Finally.

The Keystone State placed its first test wager this week at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. By placing a bet at the Grantville casino, Pennsylvania has become the seventh state to take a legal wager.

The commonwealth follows Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico. It’s no coincidence that Pennsylvania is taking bets now, as it borders three of the aforementioned states already take wagers.

Hollywood Casino, located about 20 miles north of Harrisburg, will launch its full-scale sports betting operation in the coming days. Five other facilities have applied to do the same, and once approved by state regulators, could take bets within the next few weeks.

That will likely include Harrah’s Philadelphia and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, opening up two major population centers (and home of some of the most popular professional American sports teams) to legal sports betting. The fifth-most populated state in the nation, Pennsylvania also has an outsized role in U.S. sports betting overall.

Gambling stakeholders and enthusiasts are understandably excited about the development. They believe Pennsylvania will be worth the wait.

Long Road to First Bet

Pennsylvania was one of the first states to pass a comprehensive gambling expansion bill. It would take more than 13 months to take a legal sports bet.

Lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf approved a sweeping bill in October 2017 that allowed online casino gaming as well as in-person betting at the commonwealth’s airports and truck stops. It complimented the state’s booming lottery and land-based casino industry, which helped spark Pennsylvania into one of the nation’s most lucrative gambling markets.

The bill included a sports betting legalization provision. Though a federal ban superseded the Pennsylvania bill, it provided the framework to take a bet in the commonwealth if and when the ban was lifted.

When the Supreme Court announced in May 2018 it had repealed the ban, Pennsylvania could have theoretically taken a bet that same day. In reality, that process was much longer.

Partially as a way to appease the popular lottery, lawmakers approved one of the world’s highest tax rates for online casino games as well as sports bets. The Pennsylvania Lottery, which contributes portions of its revenue to senior citizen programs, offers a wide series of games, which angered would-be competitors.

That was just part of a conflict between the government and prospective gambling partners. The bill allowed all 13 of the commonwealth’s existing and planned casinos to apply to take bets. The lottery’s built-in advantage, and more so the exorbitant tax rate, led to a stalemate.

Gambling stakeholders lobbied legislators to lower the effective 36 percent rate, which is around four times higher than the rate in neighboring New Jersey and Delaware. Lawmakers ignored the requests for months, even as its neighbors launched their own sports betting markets and garnered millions in bets monthly.

After several months holding out, the casinos relented. Realizing the revenue potential was too great, and facing competition from Delaware, New Jersey and later, West Virginia, the first wave of casinos submitted applications to take bets, starting with Hollywood Casino in August.

With the application approved and the first bet placed, state officials and gambling stakeholders can put the long quagmire behind them. A major revenue opportunity awaits ahead of them.

What Pennsylvania Means for the U.S. Market

Of all the state to take a sports bet, Pennsylvania is the most consequential.

The most populated state to take a legal wager so far, Pennsylvania opens up a major chunk of the U.S. population to legal betting. It also bolsters the growing Mid-Atlantic market as a whole, which has been the epicenter of gambling expansion following the Supreme Court ruling.

More significantly, some of the nation’s most popular sports teams are now in a state with legal wagering.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers, Flyers and Phillies have long been some of the most successful and popular teams in American sports. They receive significant media coverage and attention. That spotlight can now extend to new betting opportunities.

In Nevada and New Jersey, professional sports teams have reached deals with betting partners. The Pennsylvania teams are likely to strike similar arrangements. With huge followings nationwide, this helps further engrains sports betting into the national zeitgeist of sports fans.

Though it may be a while till Americans flock to betting windows before contents of their favorite teams, as is commonplace in Europe, the launch of Pennsylvania sports betting is a key step toward that direction.

In the meantime, a major new sports betting market is open. It took longer than many had hoped for, but it’s nevertheless the biggest domino to fall yet in the growing progression of legal sports betting.

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