Pennsylvanians currently have access to four online sportsbooks and three online casinos. Betting on the Philadelphia Eagles or Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t limited to brick-and-mortar books anymore. No need to sidle up to the stool to play the slots.
From the ski lifts at the Poconos to the middle of Gettysburg National Park, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is now your gaming floor, internet connection permitting.
However, there is one rather noticeable exception: Pennsylvania casinos.
The Keystone State continues to keep it weird with laws and regulations. State-owned liquor stores. No automobile sales on Sundays. And now, this provision of Title 4:
An interactive gaming certificate holder or interactive gaming operator shall prevent registered players within a licensed facility from accessing authorized interactive games on the registered player’s own computers or other devices through the use of geospatial technologies.
How pinpoint is the geolocation software? And, if someone attempts to play, would it be a big deal?
So, I decided to test out exactly what kind of Pennsylvania online gambling you can and cannot do on casino property.
Testing things out at Valley Forge Casino
On another oppressively humid summer afternoon, I headed to Valley Forge Casino. I took a seat on the plush seats at FanDuel Sportsbook and reveled in the full-blast air conditioning.
I logged onto the FanDuel app and placed a bet faster than it would have taken me to muster up the willpower to get up, walk to the window, and put money on a game.
With college football and NFL regular season approaching, I wondered what would happen if a person was sitting at a sportsbook and wanted to do some line shopping. Could they place a bet at another PA online sportsbook? What if they were simply bored at halftime and didn’t want to lose their prime seat but wanted to play online blackjack?
Denied by Hollywood Casino
My bet was for a 7:05 game. Unlike another patron, I didn’t have the Australian allegiance to root for Ashleigh Barty in the Western and Southern Open.
I decided to press my luck on Hollywood Casino’s online slots. After all, the iPhone app had launched less than a week ago. Would it pass the test to the letter of the law?
I logged on from my iPhone and, in a vivid flashback to trying to buy Absolut Citron vodka in high school; I was shut down. Immediately.
I still have the persistence of a high school kid trying to score clear liquor, so I tried again. This time, Hollywood Casino sent a much more ominous message.
Okay, I’d been warned. I felt a twinge of anxiety that a security guard would pluck me from my seat and place me on the non-voluntary exclusion list. My throat tightened when I saw a man with a security guard-type build (6 feet, 4 inches tall, 250 pounds, and wearing all black), walk by. Instead, he was a patron enjoying a Wawa bagged lunch.
Sportsbooks integrated with casinos caught in crosshairs
“If outside food is OK, why not outside casino apps?” I reasoned. “Maybe it’s just online casinos. I’ll try another sportsbook.”
Technically, an online sportsbook is not included in the aforementioned law. A sports betting license is not an interactive gaming certificate. It is a different $10 million license with its own set of regulations.
This time, instead of my iPhone, I used a MacBook to access the desktop browser version of Parx Sportsbook.
While sports betting is not allowed, the browser version of both Parx and SugarHouse are fully integrated with the casino’s respective online casinos. Firewalling one means the other gets caught in the crossfire. The result is an inability to access sportsbook/casino sites on casino property.
Betting on a sports betting app is another story, though
The browser version may not be accessible, but there is good news for PA sports bettors.
A few days later, in the parking lot of Valley Forge Casino, I was able to able to access and place a bet on the Parx Sportsbook app. The Parx app for iPhone is strictly for sports betting. With no online casino to block, the internet is free and clear for you to use it to bet on a competitor app. FanDuel Sportsbook confirmed it is not blocking any sports betting competitors on the property, just those with a casino component.
So what online play is OK at casinos?
To sum things up, customers can bet on any online sportsbook site or betting app, but with one big exception. They can only do so at sites and apps that are not directly integrated with an online casino.
When it comes to online casinos, nothing, not even play on the casino’s own site, is OK. Try to test that, and you may end up with your account suspended.
The law passed the test … but we still have questions
From testing at Valley Forge, we can confirm that that is more than just words buried in the fine print. There are measures in place, blocking the use of another casino’s online product while you are physically in a casino.
As for the reasoning behind the provision, we have to agree with our friends at Online Poker Report who say:
“Prohibiting online gaming at Pennsylvania’s casinos isn’t protecting them from online cannibalization. It’s an overreaction to a problem that doesn’t exist. since online gambling is additive to a casino’s bottom line, registering players is imperative. One of the best times to register a player is during an on-property visit.”
I can’t help but think of the wise words of my grandmother, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Instead of slamming the door on a prospective customer’s face (then making threats when they knock again), perhaps a welcome offer would be a nicer way to say hello.
But in a state like Pennsylvania rife with silly laws, casinos don’t have a choice but to acquiesce.