Pennsylvania – already home to Uber’s driverless cars, the developers of famed artificial-intelligence units Watson and Libratus, and the medical research centers in what’s touted as “Cellicon Valley” – could soon become home to another set of high-tech players. With online gambling now legalized, Pennsylvania online poker players have a chance to cash in.
Last fall, Pennsylvania became the fourth state – and by far the most populous – to approve Internet gaming. It’s part of a wide-ranging gambling expansion that also includes regulation of Daily Fantasy Sports wagering, online lottery ticket sales and up to 10 satellite casinos joining the dozen larger facilities already in operation. The new law also allows for sports betting if the federal ban on it is lifted.
Online versions of poker and other casino games are expected to launch this year, although the exact timing is unclear. The Gaming Control Board still has to write regulations, and the land-based casinos must pay licensing fees and set up the sites. Also, two lawsuits — one filed on behalf of Sands Bethlehem and one on behalf of Hollywood near Harrisburg — challenge elements of the new law, although online gaming isn’t among the complaints.
When launched, online casino gaming will be available only to people physically in the state. Because of federal law, that restriction also applies in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, the other three states with legal online gambling.
For poker players thinking about setting up shop in the Keystone State, PlayUSA offers this overview of life in Pennsylvania. Future reports will focus on specific sections of the state.
First off, gambling is a big deal here. Pennsylvania generates more commercial casino revenue than any other state except Nevada, and tax revenues from legal gambling are the highest in the country. Ten large casinos, six of them with harness-racing or thoroughbred tracks, are spread throughout the state, their locations selected to minimize competition; two small resort casinos, Valley Forge near Philadelphia and Lady Luck Nemacolin in the Laurel Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania, complete the line-up.
Last year, the state awarded the license for a second Philadelphia casino, whose developers plan a $600 million complex including a hotel and entertainment venues in the city’s Stadium District. Work is expected to begin this year.
As of Jan. 24, two licenses for satellite casinos have been auctioned – one to be located in south-central Pennsylvania near the Maryland border and one to be located in Westmoreland County about an hour from Pittsburgh.
A better gambling experience
Pennsylvania’s blackjack rules are among the best in the country. Player naturals must be paid 3-to-2, and all games feature late surrender, the option to double on any two cards, the option to double after splitting and the requirement that the dealer stand on Soft 17. For a basic-strategy player, the house edge is less than 0.4 percent. With such player-friendly rules, double-deck games are rare to non-existent. Six- and eight-deck shoes are common, as are continuous shuffle machines. Most tables offer side bets sporting a hefty house advantage.
All 10 of the large casinos have live poker, with rooms ranging from seven tables at Presque Isle in Erie to 49 at Parx in Philadelphia. Live poker typically has a rake of 10 percent up to $4 per pot, plus $1 for promotions such as Bad Beat Jackpots, High Hand payouts and Royal Flush bonuses.
“Players should expect that the rules of play for internet gaming will be similar to the rules of play in the land-based casinos,” the Gaming Control Board website says.
A destination for all travelers
Here’s what you’ll find in Pennsylvania outside the casinos:
- Metro areas Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, on opposite sides of the state, have strong universities and health care facilities. Both cities made the list of 20 finalists for Amazon’s HQ2.
- Professional sports are huge: the NFL’s Steelers and Eagles; the MLB’s Phillies and Pirates; the NHL’s Penguins and Flyers; the NBA’s 76ers.
- The range of weather and terrain allow for a wide variety of outdoor activities, including skiing, biking, boating, hiking and golf.
- Pennsylvania’s cost of living is below the national average – except in Philadelphia, where it’s right at the average.
- The state’s food is famous, or infamous, in its own right. From Philadelphia cheesesteaks to the nation’s chocolate capital in Hershey to Pittsburgh’s “sammiches” piled high with meat, cheese, coleslaw and french fries.
What to expect
Pennsylvania’s population of 12.8 million is almost equal to the combined total of Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. When online gambling gets up and running, that should provide a large pool of in-state players and at least a doubling of the intrastate poker pool when Pennsylvania joins the compact of the other three.
New Jersey’s online experience demonstrated that legalized online gambling takes a while to build momentum. Players who want to get in on the ground floor can start looking at their options now.