The History and Influence of Brick-and-Mortar Casinos in Pennsylvania

In terms of gaming laws, Pennsylvania has never been seen as a trailblazer. The populace of the state has always been a mix of voracious modernists and people of more traditional values. This has resulted in covert political backing for anything morally dubious, especially for anything centered around gambling. Now the market is filled with many top-notch casinos, online games, and sites that cover the market. Plenty of iGaming PA news are reported weekly as the industry is rapidly evolving.

It has been a long journey with many ups and downs, and today we’re going to look at the long history of brick-and-mortar casinos in Pennsylvania.

Brick-and-Mortar History of Pennsylvania’s Casinos

1959 – Pari-Mutuel Horse Race Betting

The Race Horse Industry Reform Act of 1959 legalized pari-mutuel betting on horse racing. As a result, Meadows Racetrack, the first horse track in Pennsylvania, was built and opened for business in 1963. When Pocono Downs first opened its doors in 1965, the industry was figuratively off to the races.

1971 – Pennsylvania Lottery

The Pennsylvania Lottery’s implementation of Act 91 in 1971 was the next significant development of legalized gambling. In March 1972, the first lottery ticket was sold. It cost $0.50 and provided sporadic $1,000,000 rewards in addition to weekly payouts of $50,000. Four players earned $1 million in the first six months. The demand for tickets exceeded expectations, bringing in $57.7 million for the state in the first year.

2004  – First Slot Machines

Following the passage of a measure by Pennsylvania lawmakers legalizing slot machines in 2004, Atlantic City’s hold on gambling started to slip. Gov. Ed Rendell had pledged to use the money from the slots to reduce Pennsylvania’s property taxes by 30%. His campaign for legalized gambling was the culmination of an initiative he started in 1991 as Philadelphia’s mayor when he attempted to get state permission to allow riverfront casinos, but he ultimately failed.

2010 – Poker and Table Games at Casinos

A measure altering casino legislation to allow “table games” was signed on January 7, 2010, by the state’s former governor, Ed Randell. In this law, “table games” meant the majority of the well-known casino games that people in other states played at the time.

Philadelphia became the largest city in the nation with a casino after SugarHouse opened its doors there in September 2010. In the first two years of operation, SugarHouse gave $4.34 million to the city’s general fund and $9.35 million to the city’s public schools. Given the city’s estimated $4.5 billion budget at the time, gaming profits overall were negligible.

2017 – Gambling Expansion Bill

On October 30, 2017, a significant law was approved and made official. Slot machines were made legal by House Bill 271, also known as the 2017 Truck Stop and Satellite Casino Bill. 

2018 – the Repeal of PASPA

The year 2018 was a significant one for the Keystone State. PASPA was finally overturned by the federal government, allowing individual states to authorize and control sports betting themselves.

Online Casino Chapter in Pennsylvania’s History

On October 26, 2017, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a plan to expand gambling that included provisions for online gaming sites. The governor signed it four days later, making internet gambling legal in Pennsylvania. Of course, the only way to bet legally was to do so at sites that were licensed and controlled by the state of Pennsylvania, and it would take more than a year for any of them to become live.

First, the duty of writing responsible regulations to oversee the activity was given to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Guidelines for the licensing processes were contained in those rules. When those were ready, Pennsylvania’s land-based casinos had to submit a licensing application.

The savvy ones had arranged alliances with reputable vendors ahead of time, including software developers, geolocation services, payment processors, etc. Because not only their operational partners but also the casinos themselves had to obtain licenses. As a result, some online casinos were able to launch ahead of others.