From puritanism to prosperity: This is the path that gambling law in Pennsylvania has followed over its 350+ years of history. Once the most restrictive of any Eastern state with regard to gambling, Pennsylvania today has one of the country’s healthiest casino and horse racing industries.
Better yet, Pennsylvanian attitudes toward gambling – at least in state-level politics – have become positively progressive in the 21st century, and the state looks fit to become one of the United States’ pioneers in internet gambling. Even Ben Franklin might be impressed…
Population: 12.78 million (off. 2016 est.)
Area: 46,055 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 12
• Pennsylvania produces more sausage than any other state.
• Having opened in 1745, the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem is the world’s longest continuously run bookstore.
• In The Dark Knight Rises, Pittsburgh stands in for Gotham City.
• It is illegal to sing while in a bathtub in Pennsylvania.
Despite serving as home for intellectually revolutionary pre-Revolutionary War writings, planning and ultimately the Constitutional Convention, until quite recently, gambling laws in Pennsylvania have been curtailed altogether thanks to 17th-century puritanical “Blue Laws.” Heck, not even Benjamin Franklin himself could get approval for a lottery in Pennsylvania to financially support the *military defense of the city of Philadelphia against the British* in the 1770s.
And soon into the lottery craze of the early 1800s, Pennsylvania lawmakers saw to it that no such activity would be permitted in their state: In 1833, Pennsylvania was one of the first three states (along with New York and similarly-minded puritanically-influenced Massachusetts) to outlaw lotteries.
Thanks to prevailing Blue Laws, the legalization of horse racing and the concomitant pari-mutuel betting that so many states took up as a jolt to the stagnant economy of the Great Depression were barely discussed in the state legislature. Such gambling in Pennsylvania would only be legalized three decades later (!) when the state issued three licenses for horse tracks running only harness racing (!!!) in 1963. Gambling in the state had been a long time in coming, but momentum for further decriminalization was established.
Thoroughbred horse racing was approved in 1968, only some 35 years after the first wave across the U.S. in the 30s; three more tracks were established immediately. The now-ancient law formally banning state lotteries in 1933 went out the window in 1971 with the announcement of the Pennsylvania state lottery’s launch. And the biggest step for the gambling industry in Pennsylvania wasn’t far away…
In the late 1970s, a new U.S. gambling mecca was created just about 60 miles away in Atlantic City. AS one member of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PCGB) said in 2014, “In 1978, Atlantic City got casinos and we saw all of these Pennsylvania people going to Atlantic City. So we said, ‘Why don’t we do that in Pennsylvania?'”
And so they would, eventually. This is Pennsylvania, after all. In the early 1990s, then-Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell attempted to appeal on the state level for legalized gambling in his city – specifically riverboat gambling (!) in 1991 – but to no avail. Further, despite the passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, any Native American-operated “casinos” could only offer bingo – again, due to the Blue Laws in the state.
Finally, with passage of the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act in 2004, would casino gaming be allowed in Pennsylvania, as this act legalized slot machines and some other electronic games. This law has subsequently been modified to allow for off-track betting (OTB) terminals, simulcast horse race betting and table games.
As of this writing, 12 casinos are open for business in Pennsylvania. Full-on casino resorts in the stae include the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, the Valley Forge Casino Resort in Upper Merion and the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. Straight-up casinos in Pennsylvania are the Harrah's Philadelphia, the Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, the Lady Luck Casino in Farmington and the Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township.
Finally, racinos may be enjoyed at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino (North Strabane); Penn National Race Course (Grantville); Presque Isle Down (Erie); and Prix Casino and Racing (Bensalem).
Somewhat surprisingly, actually, are the standard numbers in use here: 21 for casino gaming, 18 for the rest. It’s shocking that no old-timer managed to slip in some obscure law uner pretense of protection us all from ill morals…
We don’t know if Pennsylvania has the most famous gamblers per se, so we’ll give you the weirdest Pennsylvania gamblers (or at least weirdest gambling stories. The following two dudes aren’t famous, but maybe they should be.
Don Johnson – no, not *that* Don Johnson – may go down as the guy who did more damage in Atlantic City than anyone not named Donald Trump. In May 2011, news reports emerged of a guy who’d taken New Jersey casinos for a combined $15 million in a three-month span. That player was soon identified as Johnson, a native of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. After bagging nearly $4.25 million at Caesar’s in December ’10, Johnson moved on to the Borgata, where he made $5 million in five month. Niether of hose amazing runs holds a candle to the 12-hour April run which landed him $5.8 million at the Tropicana; this haul set a record for the casino.
Not quite so lucky or rich was an unnamed man who became the subject of newspaper stories worldwide – no seriously, British and Australian tabloids love this kinda stuff – thanks to a nine-hour stint he (probably) enjoyed at the Mount Airy Casino. After sitting down at the slot machines at around 1:30pm, casino servers plied him with some 27 drinks until he literally fell off his stool at around 10:45pm. No telling how much he lost, but the casino lost $27,000 in fines and the three bartenders who were serving ’em up lost their jobs.
Centuries’ worth of Blue Laws have finally been blown away from the Pennsylvania law books and today most forms of gambling may be played legally in the state, including pari-mutuel betting on live or simulcast horse racing, slots and video poker, lotteries, bingo and table games.
Onlien gambling is still in a legal gray area, but Pennsylvania may actually end up ahead of the curve on legalizing these games in the state. Read on for more.
Despite the long history of puritan-based law, Pennsylvania has firmly entered the 21st century. The state’s casinos and race tracks aren’t going anywhere. According to statistics from the PCGB, horse racing and casinos in Pennsylvania have created some 16,000 new jobs and over $9 billion in revenue for the sate through mid-2014.
More interestingly, 2017 sees the introduction of legislation and legislative framework for intrastate online gambling. Previous bills were rejected I 2015 and ’16 and, while ’17 is not the year for such laws becoming actualized, Pennsylvania lobbyists and legislators are well further along in this sort of legislation than those in most states in the 2010s.