Pennsylvania has enjoyed a successful online casino market for over a half decade. Last year, reports showed that Pennsylvania had surpassed New Jersey to become the largest igaming state in the United States.
The success of the online casino has encouraged the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to allow more companies to apply to operate an online gambling site in the state.
Doug Harbach has been Director of Communications at the PGCB since 2006. He has been on the regulatory board since 2006.
Harbach outlined the growth in Pennsylvania’s gaming industry, saying: “While poker revenues have remained stable, play and revenue from slot machines and tables games has increased significantly over the last year.
Both of these sectors saw an increase of more than 23 percent from 2021 to 2020, and both are also ranked in the top three jurisdictions of the country for states with commercial casinos.
We require background checks on all applicants, licence holders, principals, and key employees.
Harbach assured that the board would adhere to its solemn requirements in reviewing each application for new licences, noting that the PGCB’s stance regarding which operators were deemed suitable for Pennsylvania “really hasn’t changed since legalised gambling was established in Pennsylvania 17 year ago”.
The PGCB still has 12 igaming licenses available. Each requires a $4m one-time fee. The PGCB is offering 12 igaming licences, each requiring a one-time fee of $4m.
Harbach commented on the current application process undertaken by the PGCB: “We conduct background investigations for all applicants, licensees as well as principals and key staff. The board will only approve an individual if it believes that the person is of good character and has integrity and honesty.
We will also need to determine how many people request these additional igaming licenses.
Many industry representatives may start to wonder if the PGCB, which is seeking new licensees in order to increase wealth for PA’s rapidly growing igaming sector can maintain control over a market that has grown exponentially, and as a consequence, becomes more difficult to regulate.
The PGCB was forced to act on several regulatory failings at land-based venues throughout 2022. The board issued fines or punishments for various transgressions. These ranged from failures in self-exclusion to people leaving their children in parked cars while gambling in the casino.
“…we are continuing to look for efficiencies in monitoring all forms gaming without adding significant staff”
Harbach explained that the organization has hired additional staff to monitor regulatory issues and be on-site at land-based casinos.
He added: “The PGCB will continue to monitor additional staff as the growth continues.” We continue to look for efficiencies that will allow us to monitor all gaming forms without adding significant staff.
Alcohol is the main cause of many of the regulatory issues that the PGCB oversees.
Washington Trotting Association received a $40,000 fine last year for two incidents where Hollywood Casino at Meadows staff served alcohol visibly drunken patrons.
In one of these incidents, Hollywood Casino staff served a patron 17 draft beers in a period of less than 13 hours. This led to the patron falling and getting injured.
In another intoxicated incident, an individual was given five mixed drinks and three shots of alcohol over a three-and-a half-hour period. The patron went on to assault two other casino customers and two security officers.
Harbach, commenting on the many alcohol-related failures that have occurred, revealed that the PGCB, up to date, has fined over half a million dollars for alcohol-related matters.
“To date the board has fined casinos $552,500 for matters that involved an intoxicated customer”
Harbach explained that, while the PGCB doesn’t regulate the sale alcohol in casinos, each casino has its own alcoholic service guidelines and has provided them to the board. The board has fined casinos $552,500 for matters that involved an intoxicated customer.
The PGCB, despite these problems, which can be found in any jurisdiction with casinos, has been able to balance its online and brick-and mortar casinos to ensure that its gambling market continues to flourish, generating $464.48m a year in revenue.
While the state has a number beloved sports institutions such as the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates, as well the Super Bowl LVII runners up, the Philadelphia Eagles; igaming continues outperforms sports betting, contributing $133.11m in revenue compared to the $39.25m of sports wagering.
Harbach acknowledged the popularity of igaming and casinos as reasons for its continued dominance in sports betting. He stated that: “Sports bets will never generate the same amount of revenue as table games and casino slots, or even igaming.
It has a broad appeal for a certain group of people, such as sports enthusiasts, but it is not as popular as other gaming forms.
Regulators often find it difficult to regulate online services, as problem gambling gamblers can easily jump from one casino platform to another at will.
“We offer options to help online gamblers… with any gambling problems”
Harbach explained that the regulator has taken protective measures in order to minimize harm caused by gambling online.
He said: “We have options in place that allow online players to receive assistance with any gambling problems, whether they are playing online casino games or sports betting online.”
Harbach cited self-exclusion, which “allows a person to request to be prohibited from all legalised gaming activities”.
He added: “When a person appears on this list they are prohibited from accepting any complimentary gifts, promotions, or recovering any losses.”
The PGCB Director of Communications listed self-imposed limitations, such as deposit limits, spending limits, wagering limits, daily time-based restrictions, and temporary suspensions, among other ways the board has set each operator up to ensure responsible gambling is prioritized.
Pennsylvania’s online casino sector, and the money it generates, could inspire other states to launch their own online casino.
“Any operator must be able work within the guidelines of their state.”
Pennsylvania is only the second state in the country to have legalized igaming after New Jersey, which did so almost six years ago, in 2013.
After NJ was knocked off its perch as the leader in online casinos, several states are now aiming to replicate this feat by launching markets in West Virginia Michigan and Connecticut.
PA is a great example of how to keep operators under the watchful eye.
Greenwood Gaming is the operator of PARX Casino in Bensalem. Marc Oppenheimer of Greenwood Gaming’s Chief Marketing Officer noted that the company’s “online casino business” is growing in Pennsylvania.
Oppenheimer responded to a question about the relationship between the operator and the Pennsylvania regulator by saying: “Any operator must adhere to all PGCB regulations, whether they are land-based or online.” We have procedures in place to accomplish this. We’re also one of the lowest-fined operators in PA, probably due to our focus on this.
He continued: “We have a very good relationship with the PGCB. Every operator must be able work within the rules and regulations set forth by their state. “The PGCB responds to clarification questions, and that’s about all we ask.”
Pennsylvania’s igaming industry is expected to maintain its momentum through the rest of 2023. While new licenses could increase the PGCB’s workload, an improvement in the gambling economy may see the state become a standard jurisdiction for online and offline gambling.