Online gambling is imminent in Pennsylvania (PA), thanks to a gambling expansion bill passed by the state in 2017. Online slots, table games, and poker were approved, and 12 casinos now hold conditionally approved licenses for online gaming. Key partnerships have been established, and work is well underway for the first online casinos to launch in mid-to-late 2019.
Legal online gambling In Pennsylvania
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in 2006 and disrupted the online gambling world by prohibiting financial transactions for “unlawful internet gambling.” Although UIGEA wreaked havoc on the market, it did not fundamentally prohibit online gambling and even recognized the rights of individual states to legalize it.
After a tumultuous period of time for US players and betting sites in the wake of the UIGEA ruling, some states chose to legalize online gambling. Pennsylvania was the fourth state in the United States to legalize it, joining neighbors Delaware and New Jersey, along with Nevada.
New Jersey (NJ), now the leading regulated online gambling market in the United States, opened its first online casinos and poker sites in 2013 and has already achieved a relatively mature market status. Atlantic City was a hot gaming destination for Pennsylvania residents, especially before land-based casinos were legalized in PA. Now, it also hosts dozens of online casinos, poker sites, and sports betting partner sites.
Delaware was the first U.S. state to legalize online gambling in 2012. Their internet presence has not been as significant as New Jersey’s, however.
In 2017, the Pennsylvania legislature approved an extensive gaming expansion bill, HB 271, and Governor Tom Wolf signed it into law. Pennsylvania’s bill essentially legalizes online slots, table games, and poker.
The state offered online gambling licenses to existing land-based casinos operating in PA. The licenses for $10 million covered all three approved areas: online slots, table games, and poker. Casinos could also purchase licenses à la carte, like online slots or online table games only, for $4 million each. Later, unclaimed licenses were opened up to outside entities.
The bill also legalized online lottery games, sports betting, video game terminals at truck stops, daily fantasy sports (DFS), and up to ten satellite land-based casinos. Of the sweeping areas legalized in this bill, the online lottery is the only gaming aspect that is currently live in the state.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania State Lottery rolled out a website that offers online scratcher games. Online sales of jackpot games like Powerball are not possible through the lottery site.
Pennsylvania online casinos
Eight of the existing land-based casinos in Pennsylvania submitted applications for the $10 million license that covers online slots, table games, and poker.
Licenses were conditionally approved for those casinos:
- SugarHouse Casino
- Mount Airy
- Valley Forge
- Sands Bethlehem
- Stadium Park Philly Live Casino
- Hollywood Casino
Presque Isle Downs and Mohegan Sun applied for online slots and table game licenses à la carte for $8 million total each. MGM Casino and Golden Nugget New Jersey applied for licenses as entities that do not currently have existing land-based casinos in Pennsylvania.
No real-money online casinos or betting sites are available yet, and most casinos currently expect sites to launch in mid-to-late 2019. They were expected to go live sooner; however, a recent Wire Act opinion issued by the Department of Justice, essentially prohibiting online betting activity across state lines, created additional delays.
Several of the casinos that operate online in New Jersey were planning to share their NJ servers with their Pennsylvania online sites as well. These casinos are now shifting gears to locate their servers in PA instead.
The Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) Kevin O’Toole announced these compliance issues would create a “modest delay” in launch dates, pushing timelines back until July (most likely).
Pennsylvania casinos have partnered with online casinos and game technology companies directly to develop and roll out their internet betting sites. Some land-based casinos in Pennsylvania, like Harrah’s and SugarHouse, already operate online casinos in New Jersey.
MGM and Golden Nugget, which both applied for licenses as out-of-state entities, also operate sites in NJ, with Golden Nugget’s site being the top performing online casino in the state.
Golden Nugget NJ’s online casino boasts more than 550 games with 400+ slots, including exclusive games by Bally. Other offerings include table games, live dealer games, scratchers, video poker games, and online sports betting provided by top developers like Bally, High 5 Games, IGT, Konami, NetEnt, NextGen, and WMS.
These existing online casinos in New Jersey can give us good insight into what their counterparts in Pennsylvania will offer.
To comply with the UIGEA guidelines and the recent Wire Act opinion, legal online casinos in Pennsylvania must ensure players are present in the state to play real-money games.
Sites will verify this by using geolocation technology like New Jersey online casinos do. PA casinos have already established partnerships with geolocation companies for their gambling sites.
For players, geolocation is a process that runs in the background and doesn’t require any effort other than downloading a plugin the first time they play. The plugin will triangulate their location and confirm to the online casino they are located in PA. Plugin apps aren’t necessary for mobile casinos because a phone’s GPS can confirm the user’s location.
Future Pennsylvania online casinos
While no PA casinos have shared comprehensive details about their future online gambling sites, we can make some educated guesses about what to expect.
Online casino partner: GAN
Parx, the leading land-based casino in Pennsylvania, has been particularly critical of online gambling in the state, citing concerns about the negative impact it could have on brick-and-mortar casinos.
Despite those concerns, Parx intends to be the leader in the state’s online casino realm as well, and they moved forward with developing their internet gaming interests relatively early. In 2015, Parx launched a social casino powered by GAN that offers free-play slots and table games. Parx and GAN have continued their partnership for their real-money online gambling site as well.
GAN powers Betfair’s online casino in New Jersey, giving the company valuable experience in the U.S.’s top regulated market. We can speculate the Parx site will combine aspects of the existing Parx free-play social casino and Betfair’s online casino in New Jersey.
It’s also likely that Parx will link their existing Xclub player loyalty program to their online site, like most Atlantic City casinos have done.
Online casino partner: 888
Harrah’s is a national brand owned by Caesars Entertainment and one of the largest land-based casinos in Pennsylvania. Harrah’s Philadelphia is poised to launch an online casino in PA that is also backed by experience in the New Jersey market. Harrah’s betting website in NJ can give us a relatively good idea about what to expect when they roll out its PA counterpart.
The New Jersey site is recognizably branded with Harrah’s purple color scheme seen throughout their land-based casinos. The site boasts more than 400 games, including slots, progressive slots, blackjack, roulette, and video poker. Powered by 888, the game selection is provided by top developers like IGT, NextGen, WMS, and NYX Gaming. Games can also be played in demo mode, but players must register and log in to the site to play for free.
Harrah’s NJ online casino offers a welcome match bonus of 100% up to $300, with $10 free play money. Online play can be linked to Harrah’s Total Rewards player loyalty program. A similar offering can be expected in Pennsylvania.
Online casino partner: Rush Street Interactive / Kambi
The only land-based casino within Philadelphia’s city limits, SugarHouse Casino enjoys strong brand recognition in the area. SugarHouse has been active with community engagement, like sponsoring the city’s epic New Year’s Eve fireworks displays and New Year’s Day Mummers Parade festivities annually.
SugarHouse also operates an online gambling site in New Jersey, giving it a decided advantage when it comes time to roll out a site in PA.
Their online casino in New Jersey offers more games than most NJ sites, with more than 450 games running on an innovative, proprietary platform. More than half of those games are available on the mobile casino app. They recently rolled out live sports betting in Philadelphia and online sports betting in New Jersey as well.
SugarHouse’s impressive online game selection will likely include:
- Slots, including progressive slots
- Advanced roulette
- Three-card poker, live three-card poker
- Blackjack, multi-bet blackjack, single-deck blackjack
- Live blackjack, live roulette, and live baccarat
- Virtual sports betting
- Video Poker
SugarHouse’s online casino site in is exceptionally user-friendly, with robust game-filtering options that enable players to search for games by name, type, characteristics, and developer, which is especially helpful considering how many games are on offer in New Jersey.
If the casino’s NJ offering is any indication, the Pennsylvania site will likely offer games from the following top-tier developers:
- High 5
- Side City
- Rush (exclusive games)
SugarHouse NJ offers a relatively small first-deposit bonus to online players in New Jersey, 100% up to $250, but the wagering requirement is rock bottom at only 1x. They also run special promotions like free daily bingo games. SugarHouse’s iRush Rewards player loyalty program is also available to online players in New Jersey.
We anticipate SugarHouse’s online casino in Pennsylvania will closely resemble their New Jersey site in terms of design, game selection, features, bonuses, and promotions.
Mount Airy Casino
Online casino partner: 888 / Stars Group
Mount Airy Casino Resort, located in the picturesque Pocono Mountains, is one of the few land-based casinos in Pennsylvania that provides hotel accommodation in addition to gaming and entertainment. Perhaps due to its secluded location, Mount Airy has been very supportive of online gambling in PA.
Mount Airy has had an agreement in place with 888 for years in anticipation of online gambling opening up in the state. They have been promoting 888’s online casino site in New Jersey with free play money offers ($25 free play money, instead of the $20 offered by 888 directly), and 888 will be an online gaming partner for Mount Airy’s own online casino.
While waiting for their site to launch, Mount Airy has been proactively providing free online gaming options to their players with a social casino developed by Greentube.
Mount Airy’s social casino offers:
- Video Poker
- High-limit games
- Live tournaments
- Social features
Coins are used for gameplay at the social casino instead of real money, and loyalty points can be exchanged for real rewards. Mount Airy’s Instant Rewards player loyalty program will likely get linked to their online casino as well.
In 2018, another partnership was inked between Mount Airy and the Stars Group (holder of PokerStars, the largest online network worldwide for poker, casino games, and sports betting). The Stars Group is partnered with Resorts online casino in New Jersey as well for similar services.
Pennsylvania laws do not limit the number of partnerships online casinos can obtain, so Mount Airy is legitimately partnered with both 888 and the Stars Group. However, it is unclear how Mount Airy’s online casino, or casinos, will be presented within the context of these partnerships.
Valley Forge Casino Resort
Online casino partner: IGT / GAN
Classified by the PGCB as a “resort casino” in PA, Valley Forge’s land-based casino and hotel in historic Valley Forge is legally more restricted in terms of game floor size and gaming options than casinos that are not classified as resorts. Valley Forge has been a strong proponent of online gambling in PA, which could help to bolster the limitations imposed by their casino resort status.
Boyd Gaming acquired Valley Forge Casino in 2018 as its first casino property in PA, and it will be the company’s first official foray into online gambling. Boyd Gaming also owns land-based casinos in Las Vegas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, and they used to own a stake in the Borgata Casino in New Jersey that it sold to MGM.
Valley Forge has partnered with IGT to provide their casino site platform, with GAN for online player logistics, and with FanDuel for online sports betting. Speculation about the site specifics is difficult, however, as this is the first venture into online gambling for both Valley Forge Casino and Boyd Gaming.
It’s also uncertain whether Valley Forge’s Valley Club player loyalty program or Boyd’s B Connected player loyalty program will be linked to the new online casino.
Presque Isle Downs
Online casino partner: SBTech / Golden Nugget
In January of 2019, Churchill Downs acquired Presque Isle, a relatively small racino in eastern PA, as part of their foray into online gambling and sports betting. Churchill Downs promptly obtained PA licenses for online table games and slots, as well as live and online sports betting, but not for online poker. They also recently partnered with Golden Nugget to launch an internet casino and sports betting site in New Jersey.
Speculation is that Golden Nugget will be involved in the Presque Isle Downs online casino site in PA. Churchill Downs named SBTech their technology partner. SBTech offers over 1,500 games from top developers like NetEnt, Microgaming, BetSoft, and Evolution Gaming that could be sourced for the Presque Isle Downs online casino.
Speculation is wide open about the nature of the site, as this is the first online betting venture for Presque Isle and Churchill Downs. SBTech provides white-label online casino solutions, so Presque Isle Downs could create a bespoke online player experience.
Sweepstakes-based online gambling
It continues to be a long wait for online gambling sites to go live in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, players can access slots legally at innovative new online casinos that cater to those in the United States, including PA.
Chumba Casino and Luckyland Slots provide legal online gaming options through a unique model, offering sweepstakes awards and real cash prizes that comply with UIGEA guidelines. The LuckyLand Slots site offers a preview of the slick, exclusive slots available to PA players, and Chumba Casino features exclusive slots, blackjack, and video poker games.