Pennsylvania is likely to be on the forefront of any possible expansion for sports betting in the United States.
Right now, sports betting is illegal in most of the country because of federal law. Single-game wagering is allowed in Nevada, while limited forms of sports wagering and daily fantasy sports take place in some other states.
How big would the market be for Pennsylvania sports betting?
Getting a read on how big the sports betting market in Pennsylvania is difficult, given several factors.
First, outside of Nevada, legal sports betting doesn’t really exist in the US. And while there are estimates out there about how much is wagered at illegal sportsbooks — both domestically and offshore — those are just guesses.
Here’s what we do know. Nevada does just over $11 billion in gaming revenue each year. While gaming win on sports betting can vary from year to year, in 2016, total handle (amount of money wagered at sportsbooks) clocked in at $4.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania checks in at about $3.2 billion of total gaming revenue. If there were a direct correlation between total gaming win and sports betting, then we would expect to see somewhere on the order of $1 to $1.5 billion in handle in a fully mature PA sports betting market.
However, there are reasons to think the Pennsylvania sports betting market would be even bigger than that. The aforementioned interest in pro sports makes the market primed for even more wagering as a percentage of gaming dollars in the state.
Assuming a hold of somewhere north of five percent for sportsbooks, Pennsylvania casinos would stand to generate upwards of $50 to $75 million in revenue, possibly reaching nine figures.
Who would the major players be in the PA sports betting market?
There are many casinos in Pennsylvania. And undoubtedly all of them would want to offer sports betting. But some markets/casinos will be better for sports betting than others.
The three Philadelphia-area casinos would be the center of attention for PA sports betting, undoubtedly. The city is home to franchises in the four major professional sports leagues, featuring a rabid fan base for all those sports.
SugarHouse Casino, Parx Casino and Harrah’s Philadelphia would be best poised to cash in on the city’s intense interest in sports. Not only would the casinos benefit from the revenue from handle on sports betting, it would also get more people in the door to enjoy the casinos’ other amenities and gambling options.
Rivers Casino already has a monopoly on the Pittsburgh market. But it would be poised to cash in even more with legal sports betting. The city has both NFL and NHL franchises.
As the second biggest city in the state and one with a large sports fan base, it would be a boon to Rivers’ bottom line.
For years, racetracks have eyed sports betting as a possible way to woo bettors in their doors.
Penn National, near the center of the state — and far from Philly and Pittsburgh — would be poised to be benefit greatly. The complex now features both Hollywood Casino and the racetrack, and sports betting would be just one more draw.
What are the chances PA legalizes and regulates sports betting?
It seems like a safe bet that Pennsylvania will have sports betting, as soon as federal law allows.
What needs to happen first, at the federal level
This hinges mostly on one of two possibilities coming to fruition:
- If New Jersey wins in its ongoing federal court case. That state has passed two laws attempting to legalize sports betting at its casinos and racetracks, an effort that has only been met with defeat so far. A positive ruling for New Jersey would mean Pennsylvania could pass a law along the same lines as New Jersey. The NJ case is being appealed to the US Supreme Court.
- If Congress either repeals or amends PASPA. That’s the federal law that prohibits single-game wagering pretty much everywhere. There are currently active bills in Congress that would give states the chance to legalize sports betting.
If and when either of those things happens, it appears to be a safe bet that Pennsylvania would pass its own legislation authorizing sports betting. The legislature already made its intentions known on this front. The House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2016 asking for Congress to change PASPA to allow states to legalize betting within their borders.
Pennsylvania, aggressive on gambling
Beyond that, Pennsylvania has remained aggressive in the past decade on the gambling front. It has carved out a sizable portion of the regional gaming market in the past decade, with 12 commercial casinos now calling Pennsylvania home.
Originally, casinos could only offer slot machines. But the state later changed gaming laws to allow for table games, as well.
This year, Pennsylvania is examining other changes to gaming law that would also expand gaming opportunities in the state. Among those is the possibility that the state will legalize online casino games and poker.
New Jersey already has iGaming, and the Keystone State appears likely to join it. And given the fact that sports betting is an even less controversial subject for legalization — at least at the state level — it seems like a lock that Pennsylvania would join NJ with legal sports betting, should it be allowed to.
Who would regulate sports betting in the state?
In the scenario where New Jersey wins its court case, there is a possibility that no one actually regulates sports betting, should PA follow NJ’s model.
The New Jersey laws that have passed to date — but which have been tied up in court — basically just repeal the sports betting prohibition in the state, in order to skirt PASPA. Only racetracks and casinos could offer sports betting under the NJ law. Those entities would have to do what amounts to “self regulation.”
Pennsylvania would have to also do what amounts to self regulation to follow in NJ’s footsteps.
In the case of Congress taking action on sports betting, there are two scenarios. The first is the possibility the US government sets up some sort of federal framework for sports betting regulation, which states could opt into.
The far more likely scenario is one where states’ gaming commissions are put in charge of sports betting. That would leave the task to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. That entity has proven itself to be a competent regulator to date.