Pennsylvania Poker and their Statutes

Last updated: July 26, 2017 at 7:51pm by SavanahA bill to legalize online gambling (poker and casino games), HB 271, passed the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee (11-3 vote) and the Senate Appropriations Committee (24-2 vote) on May 23rd. The next day, on May 24th, the full Senate passed this bill by a 38-12 vote. On June 7th, the bill passed the House by a 102-89 vote. Some changes were made to the bill by the House so it now goes back to the Senate for vote approval. The main changes relate to the revenue tax rate, and if the House and Senate can agree on something than this bill should be passed this year. Last year, HB 649 (a similar bill as HB 271) passed the House of Representatives but did not receive a vote from the Senate. On a different note, a bill (HR 619) passed the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee on February 9, 2016 by a 23-1 vote. HR 619 is geared towards allowing sports betting in their casinos if the federal government ever lifts the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Morgan Stanley reported they believe 11% of Pennsylvanians will gamble over the internet once passed. Also to note, the state approved a $500 million casino project in south Philly.

Online Poker in Pennsylvania – Estimated Date of Legalization: 2017-2018

Pennsylvania is one of the more lenient states when it comes to gambling and their laws. They allow charitable gaming, commercial casinos, pari-mutuel betting, and state lottery games; no Indian casinos are allowed.

Poker can be played under a few of those categories, but when it comes to playing over the internet things are a little less clear. What’s interesting about Pennsylvania is almost all states have a definition of “gambling” in their statutes to help people understand their laws better, but they don’t even really provide a definition at all.

Instead, their statute talks more about “gambling devices” which states:

Gambling Devices

    Offense defined. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he/she:

  • intentionally or knowingly makes, assembles, setups, maintains, sells, lends, leases, gives away, or offers for sale, loan, lease or gift, any punch board, drawing card, slot machine or any device to be used for gambling purposes, except playing cards.
  • allows persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of unlawful gambling at any place under his control.
  • solicits or invites any person to visit any unlawful gambling place for the purpose of gambling.
  • being the owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, or any part thereof, to be used for the purpose of unlawful gambling.

Not having a clear definition of gambling only allows for more controversy and debate, and what is considered legal and illegal, especially when it comes to online gambling.

Regulating Gambling – Important to the State

Pennsylvania has allowed betting at their racetracks for quite some time, and the state lottery was established on August 26, 1971. With that being said, they still put a priority on making sure all legal forms of gambling within the state are closely regulated.

In 2004, they passed the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, which legalized electronic slot machines and allowed commercial casinos. In 2010, Governor Ed Rendell signed a law permitting non-electronic table games at casinos, blackjack being the most popular form. In 2015, Pennsylvania’s casinos broke a record generating $3.17 billion in gross revenue.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is the regulating gaming entity in the state. Their Mission Statement says the following:

To protect the interest of the public by ensuring the integrity of legalized gaming through the strict enforcement of the law and regulations, the licensing of qualified individuals and entities, and fulfilling the objectives of limited gaming in the Commonwealth to deliver a significant source of revenue, assist the horse racing industry, provide broad economic opportunities and enhance tourism.

The PGCB is widely respected as one of the premier gaming regulators in the United States.

Pennsylvania Texas Hold’em Poker Guide
Texas Hold’em is popular in Pennsylvania and it’s important to know what is legal and what isn’t legal, including all the specific laws, codes, etc., associated which each section.

Below are two examples:

Question – What prizes may be offered in regard to lawful Texas Hold’em events? Do there exist limitations for the prizes that may be awarded?

Answer – The total value of prizes for any given event, tournament or contest on retail licensed premises may not exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00).  The total value of all prizes awarded in any seven (7)-day period may not exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000.00).  [40 Pa. Code § 5.32(f)(7)]. Should any subsequent event grow out of a Texas Hold‘em event or tournament (i.e., second tournament on/off-premises) the subsequent event will have its prize values attributed to the first tournament for purposes of section 5.32. Additionally, licensees must maintain records of the prizes and winners on the licensed premises for two (2) years following the event, tournament or contest.

Question – May I hold a “ladies’ night” for an event related to a Texas Hold’em event?

Answer – The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and/or sex.  [43 P.S. § 951 et seq.].  It would be unlawful to offer only one (1) sex a benefit, such as charging a cover only to male patrons.  Therefore, a ladies’ night promotion in which females received a benefit that is not also offered to men is not permissible unless both men and women receive the same benefit.

Author: Savanah Lavinder
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