How Pennsylvania Became a Sports Betting Trendsetter

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Like many states across the country, Pennsylvania has had a rocky relationship with sports betting and has been restricted by federal government laws. While wagering on sports was illegal for two decades, the state was simultaneously one of the most progressive in terms of gambling infrastructure. Thanks to recent national regulatory changes, PA is now trail-blazing in the sports betting market. 

While understanding how the state went from having no sports betting in 2018 to allowing both land-based and online betting in 2020, there’s plenty of history to get through. It starts with Pennsylvania’s proactive gambling market. It could be argued outside Las Vegas, the state has been amongst the friendliest towards casinos, lotteries, and horse racing. 

However, while casino services could operate and thrive in the state, sports betting was prohibited. Casinos like Golden Nugget have become mainstays of the PA gambling market, helping the state to be at the forefront of betting in the United States. 

This lack of legality had nothing to do with state legislators, who had their hands tied by 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). This federal law prevented any state from allowing traditional sports betting operations apart from Nevada. 

So, while Pennsylvania was able to build a rich gambling industry focused on casinos, online casinos, lotteries, and horse racing, sports betting was not invited to the party. That changed in May 2018 when the Supreme Court removed PASPA and gave states the individual right to host sports betting or not. 

This opened the door for Pennsylvania to initiate its plans for sports wagering. However, legislators in the state were preemptive in believing PASPA would be removed and had already drawn up an expansive allowance of sports betting during a gaming bill signed by Governor Tom Wolf on Oct. 30, 2017. 

In other words, the state had the legal framework in place and was simply waiting or the Supreme Court to remove PASPA. That removal happened in May 2018 and Pennsylvania wasted little time rolling out its sports betting legality. Indeed, the first retail sportsbook was opened at the Hollywood Casino in November that same year. 

Pennsylvania became only the fourth state, alongside Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey to legalize sports betting for single bets (more have followed since). However, legislatures wanted to move forward more quickly and soon turned their attention to online sports betting. By May 2019, a year after the PASPA regulations were lifted, Pennsylvania’s first online sportsbooks became available. 

Within the state, mobile online sportsbooks must be attached to a brick and mortar casino, either directly or through partner collaboration. Under the legalities of sports betting in PA, consumers can make single-game, proposition, and parlay wagers. It is worth noting Esports and non-sports betting wagers remain illegal throughout the state.

Interestingly, PA is one of the only states that allows people to make bets on college sports events. 

Because of its swift action in rolling out regulations for legal sports betting both off and online, Pennsylvania is now the only state in the country that has legalized online sports betting and lottery tickets.