Finally! Mobile Sports Betting Begins In PA

Last November, the first legal sports bets were made in the state of Pennsylvania when Hollywood Casino at Penn National launched the first retail sportsbook authorized by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

Now, another milestone has been reached. Yesterday (May 28, 2019) a soft-launch for SugarHouse Casino’s mobile sports betting platform went live. For right now, it’s still baby steps.  The Android version of the app has gone live, while the iOS app still awaits PGCB approval. Still, the mobile sports betting avalanche has finally begun. Very soon. PA sportsbettors will have many mobile sports betting options to go along with the many retail sportsbook options they have.

Mobile betting very important to the sportsbook marketplace

Sports bettors (and casinos) have been eagerly awaiting this development. The first retail sportsbook arrived around six months ago and right now, six casinos are operating at eight physical sportsbook locations (Parx Casino has three of them up and running). Four others are in various stages of application and approval for sports betting licenses.

These licenses allow casinos to run physical and mobile versions of their sportsbooks, but until now only the brick and mortar books have been allowed to operate. The PGCB was waiting to make sure there were no hiccups in the casino sportsbooks before allowing the practice to go online.

It’s been a frustrating wait. Having the physical sportsbook is good, but mobile betting is where the bulk of the action comes from. Sports bettors just love the convenience and flexibility that mobile sports betting allows.

As an example, in neighboring New Jersey (where legal sports betting has been around a bit longer) mobile betting accounts for over 80% of the total handle generated by their licensed and regulated casino sportsbooks.

First a trickle, then a tidal wave

Mobile sports betting in PA will start small, but it will eventually come to all the licensed casino sportsbooks in the state. The first wave of operators will consist of the following three operators:

App/WebsiteLicensed CasinoSportsbook PartnerMobile Launch Date
SugarHouse SportsbookSugarHouse CasinoKambiMay 28, 2019 (soft launch)
Rivers SportsbookRivers CasinoKambiTBD
Parx SportsbookParx CasinoKambiTBD

The rest will follow soon after. Once the PGCB is satisfied that the first sportsbook platforms are operating smoothly and in compliance, they will allow the others to follow suit.

Where can I go in PA to place a bet on a game?

This new legalized sportsbook marketplace in Pennsylvania came into existence due to sweeping new gaming legislation passed in 2017. Licenses were created (costing $10 million) that allowed for both retail and mobile sportsbooks. These were offered to PA’s 12 existing casinos and racinos (plus a 13th – Stadium Casino: soon to be built in South Philly’s stadium district).

Other changes were included as well. A new PA online lottery was created. Also, existing casinos got an opportunity to bid for licenses allowing them to build mini-casinos. These mini-casinos, along with existing off track betting (OTB) sites also serve as places where sports betting licensees can open retail sportsbooks under the new sportsbook licenses.

All this means that there are now a host of places in PA one can go to place a bet – and more coming soon:

Sportsbook LocationLicensed CasinoSportsbook PartnerOpening Date
Hollywood CasinoHollywoodWilliam HillNovember 16, 2018
SugarHouse CasinoSugarHouseKambiDecember 13, 2018
Rivers CasinoRiversKambiDecember 13, 2018
Parx CasinoParxKambiJanuary 10, 2019
South Philadelphia Turf ClubParxKambiJanuary 16, 2019
Harrah's PhiladelphiaHarrah'sScientific GamesJanuary 24, 2019
Valley Forge CasinoValley ForgeFanDuelMarch 12, 2019
Valley Forge Race & SportsbookParxKambiMarch 13, 2019
Mohegan Sun PoconoMohegan SunKambiTBD (sometime in 2019)
Mount Airy CasinoMount AiryBetStarsTBD (sometime in 2019)
Presque Isle DownsPresque IsleBetAmericaTBD (sometime in 2019)
Stadium CasinoStadiumTBDTBD (sometime in 2020)

Who can bet on sports in PA?

Pennsylvania’s legal sports bettors must be at least 21 years old and physically located within the state. This geo-location requirement is met automatically in the case of physical sportsbooks. For mobile apps, technology partners will ensure bets are only placed from within the borders of Pennsylvania.

It is not required that you be a resident of PA to make legal bets, just that you are physically located in the state when you place those bets.

Who may NOT bet on sports in PA?

  • people that are too young (under 21 years old)
  • Athletes, coaches, officials, and other related personnel when the game in question is within their league or association.
  • “Excluded Gamblers” – a self-identified category in which people place themselves on a list of those whom casinos may not accept bets from.

What sports are legal to bet on in PA?

Pennsylvania’s sportsbooks accept bets on a wide variety of sports and games – both professional and collegiate. There are no restrictions on collegiate sports, unlike neighboring NJ, where sportsbooks cannot accept bets on games where in-state universities are participating.

The only restrictions are on high-school (and younger) sports, e-sports wagering, and some small novelty sports betting markets.

Also, thanks to the 2017 legislation, Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) are legal now in Pennsylvania.

What about FanDuel and Draftkings?

These two sportsbook operators are always subjects of interest and speculation as sports betting becomes legalized across the country.

FanDuel’s situation in Pennsylvania is well fleshed out. They are partnered with Valley Forge Casino and their sportsbook opened up this March. FanDuel’s mobile app isn’t up and running yet but will be very soon.

DraftKing’s situation is much more of a question mark in PA. They are the industry leader in New Jersey, but thus far haven’t managed to create a path to sportsbook operation in PA, despite inking a market-access deal with Caesar’s Entertainment (Harrah’s). Industry experts expect they will eventually find a casino to partner with in the Keystone State but who it will be is unknown at this time.

How about those taxes and fees?

As mentioned above, the license that allows one of PA’s land-based casinos to offer sports betting (both retail and mobile) costs $10 million. In addition, the state taxes gross revenues at a rate of 34% and authorizes local jurisdictions to tax another 2%. There is also a federal excise tax of 0.25% on the total handle (amount wagered). The grand total tax bill exceeds 36%.

These taxes and fees are very steep, compared to other US states that have begun to legalize sports betting. It remains to be seen how Pennsylvania’s casinos will fare under such an onerous tax and fee burden. Obviously, those who perceive themselves as marginal producers will simply not partake of this opportunity (of the thirteen eligible casinos, only ten are expected to pursue sports betting).

Other possible negative effects of such high state-imposed costs could be the re-emergence of black market bookies in PA or the diversion of Pennsylvania sports bettors to neighboring states (and their mobile sportsbooks). These unwanted results could occur if Pennsylvania’s legal sportsbooks have to offer unattractive odds to overcome the high tax and fee structure.

That would be unfortunate. Of course, the PGCB and the state legislature could always relax these costs if these unintended and unwanted consequences come to pass.