Learn more about legal gambling in Pennsylvania

Casinos in Pennsylvania

The idea of casino gaming in Pennsylvania was first bandied about by lawmakers in the early 1990s, when a plan to legalize riverboat casinos was floated by Then-Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell. The riverboat casino law was never passed.

It wasn’t until 2004 that any kind of casino legislation was actually signed into law. That year saw state lawmakers make a number of amendments to horse track security bill authorizing the use of slot machines at locations across Pennsylvania. The bill was rushed through the House and Senate and quickly became law before any opposition to casino gambling in the state had a chance to mount.

The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs became the state’s first slot parlor when it opened its doors in November 2006 at a harness track near Wilkes-Barre. Construction of stand-alone casinos, horse racing facilities with gaming operations, and small casino resorts boomed in the Pennsylvania over the next seven years, and as of 2013 there were 12 open and operating across the state.

Laws were also amended to allow table games in 2010, turning the slot parlors into full-service casinos. Category 3 gaming licenses were also added, requiring patrons to spend money at the resorts where the Category 3 casinos are located.

Pennsylvania’s casino construction boom

  • Parx Casino opened as a temporary gaming facility at the former Philadelphia Park racetrack in December 2006. The Parx Casino standalone gaming facility opened its doors three years later in December 2009.
  • Harrah’s Philadelphia opened as a racetrack on the Chester, Pennsylvania waterfront in 2006. A slots parlor began operation in 2007 and table games went live in 2010.
  • The Presque Isle Downs casino and horse racing track near Erie, Pennsylvania opened in February 2007.
  • The Mount Airy Casino Resort also officially opened in 2007 in the Poconos.
  • The Meadows Casino began as a temporary casino adjacent to the racetrack in Washington County, PA, opening in June 2007. The permanent casino opened in 2009.
  • Hollywood Casino opened at the Penn National track in 2008. Table games were added in 2010.
  • Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened on the Bethlehem Works development site in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in May 2009 with slots and table games were added in July 2010.
  • In 2009, The Rivers Casino opened in Pittsburgh, PA’s Chateau neighborhood along the Ohio River.
  • SugarHouse Casino opened its first phase in Philadelphia in September 2010.
  • The Valley Forge Casino Resort opened its doors in March 2012. It was the first to be granted the Category 3 license.
  • The Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin opened in July 2013.

The second largest casino gambling market in the country

The states 12 casino properties now operate more than 26,000 slot machines and 1,200 table games.

These facilities employ 18,000 people and generate close to $1.4 billion in tax revenue annually, thanks to a 54 percent tax on slot machine revenue and 16 percent on table games.

In 2012, Pennsylvania moved past Atlantic City becoming the second largest casino gambling market in the United States behind Las Vegas.

State Lottery

The Pennsylvania Lottery was first made legal in 1971. Proceeds were initially targeted to provide property tax relief for seniors. In fact, the Pennsylvania Lottery remains the only state lottery where all proceeds go to programs benefiting older residents.

The first ticket sales started in 1972. These included 50-cent tickets for weekly drawings for a $50,000 prize and periodic drawings for a $1 million prize. In the first six months, four winners claimed a $1 million prize. Lucky 7 and Winner’s Choice draw games were added in 1973.

The Pennsylvania Lottery’s first instant games were added in 1975. In 1982, the Pennsylvania Lottery’s first lotto-style game, Pennsylvania Lotto was added. It created 400 millionaires in five and a half years. A number of new games were added and in 1988 the Pennsylvania Lottery’s total historic sales had topped $10 billion.

Electronic jackpot games were added in 1994.

The Pennsylvania Lottery first went online with the launch of palottery.com in 1998.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania Lottery began selling tickets for Powerball, the hugely popular multi-state jackpot lottery game.

The Pennsylvania Lottery also became the first state to offer self-service units selling instant and terminal-based lottery tickets in 2004.

In 2010, The Pennsylvania Lottery launched sales for Mega Millions, another multi-state jackpot game.

In 2011, the state lottery launched its own Facebook page and Twitter account. The lottery also launched a mobile app in 2016 with an Instant Ticket Checker feature allowing players to scan instant game tickets to see if they have a winner.

The Pennsylvania Lottery reported its best sales month ever in January 2016, thanks to a $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot.

Horse racing

Pennsylvania has a long history of Thoroughbred, Harness horse racing, and pari-mutuel wagering on both across the state. In addition to a number of Off Track Betting locations featuring simulcast races from across the country, the state is also home to several racetrack facilities. Over the years, many of the tracks have also added slot machines and table games, becoming full-service casinos and racinos.

Thoroughbred tracks in Pennsylvania include:

  • Parx Casino and Racing in Bensalem Township
  • Penn National Race Course in Grantville
  • Presque Isle Downs in Erie

Standardbred or Harness tacks in Pennsylvania include:

  • Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester
  • The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Rastaban Township
  • Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre

Online Gambling in Pennsylvania

Online gambling is not legal in Pennsylvania, but state lawmakers are considering making it so. In 2017, legislation which would legalize and regulate online gambling in Pennsylvania was passed by the Senate.

In June 2017 it was amended and passed by the House, moving it back to the Senate.

If it becomes law, this legislation would legalize and regulate:

  • Online poker
  • Online casinos
  • Internet lottery sales
  • Daily fantasy sports

The bill includes a number of regulations for the proposed online gambling industry. These include:

  • Taxing online poker revenue at a rate of 16 percent.
  • Taxing online slot machine and table game revenue at a rate of 16 percent.
  • Charging initial licensing fees of $8 million for online poker and casino operators.
  • Authorizing 12 online poker and 12 casino operators licenses
  • Offering licenses to the state’s 12 current gaming licensees first
  • Allowing the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to oversee online gambling regulation.

Learn more about the market potential for regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania.