Pennsylvania looks to set ground rules for legalized sports betting
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for states to allow sports gambling, Pennsylvania lawmakers prepared the state to regulate and tax it.
Included in a 2017 Pennsylvania gambling expansion law was an authorization for sports wagering as soon as a federal court ruling allowed the state to regulate such bets.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which — with some exceptions — barred all states except Nevada from authorizing sports betting.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court's majority opinion. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach said the board is reviewing the court's opinion and could not provide an estimate for when sports betting might become legal in the state. He said sports wagering was a “key element” of legislation last year that helped plug a state budget hole by allowing gambling in airports, truck stops and on the internet.
The bill also allowed as many as 10 satellite gaming sites in the state. One is slated for Westmoreland County.
The bill paved the way, but the gaming board still has to write regulations, including the types of bets that could be placed for each sport.
“Theoretically, it's already approved. There's just no regulations in place,” said state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, who has advocated for expanded gambling.
The Legislature could still pass more rules, Dunbar said, such as a proposal that would require sports betting operations to have a physical location in Pennsylvania. That would prevent existing, legally gray betting web ites from snapping up all the new gaming in the state, Dunbar said.
The Supreme Court's decision takes something that is already happening illegally and lets states like Pennsylvania make it legal, he said.
The American Gaming Association estimates Americans in 2016 illegally wagered $154 billion on sports, mostly through bookies and offshore websites. The AGA estimated Americans would illegally wager nearly $10 billion on the NCAA's March Madness alone this year.
“We understand that sports gambling is going on,” Dunbar said. “We just want to get our share.”
“We're very pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court and think it's been quite a while in the making,” said Troy Stremming, a spokesman for Pinnacle Entertainment, the parent company of Meadows Casino & Racetrack in Washington County.
Stremming said the company has been preparing for the decision, but he said Pennsylvania's relatively high tax on gaming revenue — 34 percent — could give the company pause as it considers where to launch sports betting.
He said the biggest benefit from sports betting would come from bringing new customers into the casino, who might try slots or table games along with sports betting. He said sports betting areas in the company's casinos would likely resemble sports bars with the option to play other games.
Greg Carlin, CEO of Rivers Casino's parent company, said the company has been “eagerly awaiting and preparing” for the court's ruling.
“It's exciting news for the consumer, the industry and the states,” Carlin said in a statement. “In addition to providing sports enthusiasts with a better, safer environment, today's Supreme Court decision will redirect revenue previously lost to the black market and instead generate much needed tax revenue at state and local levels. We look forward to adding sports betting across all our gaming platforms as soon as possible.”
Officials with the Penguins declined to comment.
The Steelers declined to comment until the team and the NFL conduct a thorough legal review of the decision.
“There are still far too many unknowns for us to be in a position to comment on the specifics of the matter,” said Brian Warecki, the Pirates vice president of communications and broadcasting. “We echo the sentiment of the Major League Baseball Commissioner's Office in that our most important priority must be protecting the integrity of the game.”
Dunbar said he believes sports betting could be integrated into Pennsylvania's future online gambling platform. “We can set it up in a manner that our existing casinos can get the first shot at it through licensing.”
Penn State officials also said they will watch as Pennsylvania establishes regulations for legal sports betting.
“As the largest (football bowl series) intercollegiate athletics program in Pennsylvania, we will be monitoring this issue and its process closely, and will actively engage when necessary to see that the interests of the university and its student-athletes are represented appropriately,” Jeff Nelson, Penn State associate athletic director, said in a statement.
Wes Venteicher and Matthew Santoni are Tribune-Review staff writers. Trib Sports writers Jerry DiPaola, Chris Adamski and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Venteicher at 412-380-5676, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @wesventeicher. Reach Santoni at 724 836 6660, email@example.com or on Twitter @msantoni.