Pennsylvania Poker and their Statutes

Last updated: Dec. 1, 2019Regulated online poker is officially open for business in Pennsylvania and it’s already the biggest online poker market in America. It took longer than expected (the original pro-online gambling law passed in 2018) but after numerous delays the first online poker site launched in late 2019. The market is changing rapidly as more and more sites come on board. The big question on everyone’s mind is whether Pennsylvania will enter into a liquidity sharing deal with NJ, which would be a huge step forward for online poker in the USA.

Online Poker in Pennsylvania – Date of Legalization: October 30, 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 it is now legal since a bill was signed into law on October 30, 2017. 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.

The above definitions and statutes may be changing now that online poker, casino games, daily fantasy sports, and lottery sales is now legal as of October 30, 2017.

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.

Specific State-by-State Laws
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