Pennsylvania could join Nevada with single-game sports betting, thanks to a law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday.
That bill authorized a myriad of new gaming options in the state, including online poker and casino games and regulation of daily fantasy sports. But it also sets up Pennsylvania to offer legal sports betting, should things break right in the near future.
The author of a standalone sports betting bill — Rep. Rob Matzie — offered this statement to ESPN’s David Purdum:
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) October 30, 2017
Still, 2018 could be an optimistic timeframe for sports betting to happen in PA.
PA sports betting needs more than just the new law
Everything else PA just legalized on the gaming front needs nothing more to become law, from a purely legal standpoint. (Obviously, more goes into implementing the different aspects of the law, including licensing and writing of regulations.)
The same is not the case for the sports betting portion of the PA law, however. The law needs a change at the federal level to take effect. Currently, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) bans single-game wagering outside of Nevada.
That means a change to that law would need to come first. The quickest and most likely avenue to that is the New Jersey sports betting case in the US Supreme Court. A verdict declaring PASPA unconstitutional would allow PA to move forward right away.
Still, that decision is not likely until the spring of 2018, and that outcome is far from a given.
Here’s the language from the bill mentioning federal law:
The Board shall, when federal law is enacted or repealed or a federal court decision is filed that permits a state to regulate sports wagering, publish a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin certifying the enactment or repeal or the filing of the decision.
Short of a SCOTUS decision in New Jersey’s favor, PA would need Congress to repeal or amend PASPA for the sports betting law to take effect.
Delaware passed a law in 2009 attempting to legalize single-game wagering, but that was struck down in court because of PASPA. Delaware still offers parlay wagering legally.
What’s in the PA sports betting law?
More about the nuts and bolts of the law here, including analysis of timing and other provisions.
The bill includes a 36-percent tax rate on sports wagering revenue, which is a ridiculously high number for what is a low-margin gaming product to start out with. Lawmakers would be smart to rein that number by changing the law in 2018, before it takes effect. (The licensing fee is also a steep $10 million.)
Beyond that, the bill also provides for mobile and online sports betting — meaning it can take place outside of the state’s land-based gaming facilities. It also allows for wagering on professional and collegiate sports, potentially putting the state at odds with the NCAA.
Full sports betting language from the PA gaming bill here:
PA Sports Section
Where will you be able to bet on sports in PA?
The short answer: Potentially anywhere in the state.
Here’s the definition of “sports wagering” from the law (emphasis added):
“Sports wagering.” The business of accepting wagers on sporting events or on the individual performance statistics of athletes in a sporting event or combination of sporting events by any system or method of wagering, including over the internet through websites and mobile applications.
Because the statute allows for online sports betting, all you would need to bet is an internet connection or a mobile device with cell service. That means you would simply need to be within the state’s borders to legally place a bet; you don’t have to be a resident of the state.
You would still have to register an account in PA, and the logistics of how that will happen for sports bettors would still need to be worked out. And we still have no idea who will attempt to offer mobile/online wagering. But certainly some licensees would.
Betting at casinos
If you didn’t want to bet online, you would obviously be able to place bets at a physical location.
Where that will happen is still up in the air. The law allows any “slot machine licensee” in the state to apply for a “sports wagering certificate” at a cost of $10 million each. Because of the huge outlay of cash up front and the high tax rate, it’s not a guarantee that every licensee would buy into this, as written.
But, if they all did, you could eventually place sports bets at all 12 of the state’s licensed casinos/racinos:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia, Chester
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Grantville
- The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, North Strabane Twp.
- Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Wilkes-Barre
- Parx Casino and Racing, Bensalem
- Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Erie
- Mount Airy Casino Resort, Mt. Pocono
- Rivers Casino, Pittsburgh
- Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino, Philadelphia
- Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin, Farmington
- Valley Forge Casino Resort, King of Prussia
There’s also another casino — Live! Philadelphia Casino and Hotel — that is planned. That’s in the city’s stadium district and would be a no-brainer for a sportsbook.
The law even thinks of the fact that there is likely not space in some casinos, as constructed, to put a sportsbook. So it authorizes temporary books:
Temporary facilities.–the board may permit a sports wagering certificate holder to conduct sports wagering at a temporary facility that is physically connected to, attached to or adjacent to a licensed facility, as approved by the board, for a period not to exceed 18 months.