Pennsylvania passed a sweeping gambling bill that approved a legalized sports and online betting framework in 2017. More than a year later, it still doesn’t have a single operator positioned to take a bet.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is now taking applications for sports betting proprietors to open in the Keystone State. Only the state’s land-based casinos are eligible for licenses, and as of July 12, none have applied, according to a report from the Central Penn Business Journal.
Without any regulated gaming providers, Pennsylvania can’t take bets, even while neighboring New Jersey and Delaware reap millions of dollars in revenue.
Exorbitant fees have scared away the state’s potential partners. All companies have to pay $10 million up front, far and away the highest in the nation. Several states already with legalized sports betting or poised to do so have no initial fee.
After the fee, gaming operators still have to pay 36 percent tax on revenue. Most other states have fees around 10 percent or less.
Gambling industry stakeholders have asked the Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to revaluate the 2017 law that enacted the high fees. This year’s legislative session is over, so it would require a special session of lawmakers to amend the laws. After months spent crafting the initial bill there’s been little indication in Harrisburg a legislative change is in the works.
Operators may eventually relent and go forward despite the fees. Pennsylvania is the fifth-most populated state in the nation and the largest by population with a sports gambling bill on the books. That large customer base may prove tantalizing enough to risk the costs and move forward with sports betting.
The law stipulated the land-based casinos would have exclusive rights to run online “Las Vegas-styled” games like slots. They petitioned the state government to halt the iLottery’s games shortly after they were unveiled. The website offers more than a dozen slot-styled games.
State regulators declined to take action against the iLottery, which amended its marketing pitches shortly after the complaint was filed. Unlike the casinos, the state-run lottery sees its proceeds go to state-run causes and has a tangible interest in supporting it.
A ruling in favor of the casinos would effectively eliminate all online gambling in Pennsylvania. Like for sports betting, the casinos are required to pay a $10 initial fee if it wants to offer online poker, slots and table games. No casinos have yet applied for an online gaming license.
As Pennsylvania struggles to get its sports and online betting off the ground, neighboring Delaware and New Jersey have combined to take in millions in revenue from wagering. With fees around 10 percent, the two states have set the pace for gambling expansion nationwide.
It remains to be seen if Pennsylvania will look across the Delaware River and make necessary changes to get its own fledgling gambling industry up and running.
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