Pennsylvania

Sports Betting in Pennsylvania

Given its history it’s tough to wrap your head around the concept that the Keystone State of Pennsylvania now ranks among the top gaming jurisdictions in the United States. Nothing of any real significance happened until 2004 and Pennsylvania was fairly typical in how it moved to expand gambling rights.

Way back in 1820 the state made betting on horse racing illegal and it would take nearly a century and a half before that changed. In 1967, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission was created and put over racing and parimutuel betting throughout the state. Harness racing had been legalized in 1963 and two tracks began operating immediately—Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and The Meadows outside of Pittsburgh. Pocono Downs opened in Wilkes-Barrie in 1965. It would take until 1968 for the state to ‘officially’ allow wagering on thoroughbred racing. Initially, the three standardbred tracks would also host throughbred races. In 1972, however, the first track built specifically for thoroughbreds and named Penn National Race Course opened near Harrisburg. In 1974, the Keystone Race Track came online near Philadelphia and assumed the thoroughbred dates previously hosted at Liberty Bell. Several years after that a third thoroughbred track called Commodore opened in Erie. In 1983, Pennsylvania introduced Xpressbet under its original name of ‘Call- a-Bet’. Xpressbet is now among the top advance deposit betting sites in the country.

With the exception of the growth of horse racing throughout the state everything else happening in Pennsylvania during the late 20 th Century was very pedestrian. In 1971, a state lottery was legalized with the first draw being held one year later. The lottery is still going strong with a variety of draw and instant scratch off games and has recently started offering online play. In 1991, the state updated its laws to allow charity bingo, raffles and pulltabs. Elsewhere, the horse racing boom of the 1970s quickly went bust in the 1980s. Commodore Downs and Liberty Bell didn’t survive the decade while Keystone was renamed twice, first as Philadelphia Park and later as ‘Parx Racing’.

Everything changed for Pennsylvania gambling in 2004. Casinos were licensed for the first time, initially with Class 2 ‘bingo style’ machines. In 2010, legislation was passed to allow Class 3 gaming including table games at state casinos. Six of the casino properties are at race tracks—Harrah’s Philadelphia, Hollywood Casino at Penn National, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Parx Casino and Racing and Presque Isle Downs and Casino. There are also six ‘standalone’ casinos in the state. These properties offer slots, video poker, table games, simulcast wagering and live poker.

In the near future, sports betting will be added to the mix. Parx Casino and the Hollywood Casino at Penn National have received approval from the state and are currently finalizing their sports book offerings. The two standalone casinos, namely the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, have notified the state of their intention to offer sports betting and are awaiting approval. This is likely just the first ‘wave’ of sports books to go live and the expectation is that in person sports betting will be available in Pennsylvania by the end of the year. There’s also plans to offer online poker, casino games and sports betting in Pennsylvania though there is no timeline until late this year/early next year if not later.

Sports Betting in Philadelphia

It’s downright surreal that Pennsylvania ranks among the top gambling markets in the United States. On a per capita basis, it’s number one beating out long established jurisdictions like Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi. It’s even more bizarre in that the state was slow to legalized gambling of any form for the entire 20th Century. Nothing of any real significance happened until 2004 and Pennsylvania was fairly typical in how it moved to expand gambling rights. It’s been a huge transformation since then and the Philadelphia area has a significant presence.

Way back in 1820 the state made betting on horse racing illegal and it would be over 150 years until that changed. In 1967, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission was created and put over racing and parimutuel betting throughout the state. Harness racing had been legalized in 1963 and two tracks began operating immediately—Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and The Meadows outside of Pittsburgh. Pocono Downs opened in Wilkes-Barrie in 1965. It would take until 1968 for the state to ‘officially’ allow wagering on thoroughbred racing. Initially, the three standardbred tracks would also host thoroughbred races. In 1972, however, the first track built specifically for thoroughbreds and named Penn National Race Course opened near Harrisburg. In 1974, the Keystone Race Track came online near Philadelphia and assumed the thoroughbred dates previously hosted at Liberty Bell. Several years after that a third thoroughbred track called Commodore opened in Erie. In 1983, Pennsylvania introduced Xpressbet under its original name of ‘Call-a-Bet’. Xpressbet is now among the top advance deposit betting sites in the country.

With the exception of the growth of horse racing throughout the state everything else happening in Pennsylvania during the late 20th Century was very pedestrian. In 1971, a state lottery was legalized with the first draw being held one year later. The lottery is still going strong with a variety of draw and instant scratch off games and has recently started offering online play. In 1991, the state updated its laws to allow charity bingo, raffles and pulltabs. Elsewhere, the horse racing boom of the 1970s quickly went bust in the 1980s. Commodore Downs and Liberty Bell didn’t survive the decade while Keystone was renamed twice, first as Philadelphia Park and later as ‘Parx Racing’.

Everything changed for Pennsylvania gambling in 2004. Casinos were licensed for the first time, initially with Class 2 ‘bingo style’ machines. In 2010, legislation was passed to allow Class 3 gaming including table games at state casinos. Six of the casino properties are at race tracks—Harrah’s Philadelphia, Hollywood Casino at Penn National, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Parx Casino and Racing and Presque Isle Downs and Casino. There are also six ‘standalone’ casinos in the state. These properties offer slots, video poker, table games, simulcast wagering and live poker.

In the near future, sports betting will be added to the mix. Philadelphia’s Parx Casino and the Hollywood Casino at Penn National have received approval from the state and are currently finalizing their sports book offerings. The two standalone casinos, namely the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, have notified the state of their intention to offer sports betting and are awaiting approval. This is likely just the first ‘wave’ of sports books to go live and the expectation is that in person sports betting will be available in Pennsylvania by the end of the year. Philadelphia could have multiple ‘outs’ once more casinos get their sports betting presence up and running.

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