Pennsylvania Gambling & Poker Laws

Pennsylvania Poker Laws

Is Online Poker / Gambling Legal in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania gambling laws are developing even in the 21st century. Many U.S. states, especially those more established state in the eastern half of the country, developed early attitudes towards gambling and those attitudes continue to animate the gaming debate and influence gambling legislation. While Pennsylvania has older gaming laws on the books, the Pennsylvanian legislature passed an important and far ranging gaming act as late as 2004.

Many of the gambling laws are under statutes 5512, 5513, 5514, and Act 71. The "small games of chance" laws are found under Chapter 901 of the Pennsylvania code.

As the various statutes prove, Pennsylvania has a progressive attitude towards gambling, taking the stance that gambling revenues lower taxes for gamblers and non-gamblers alike. The lawmakers want gambling to exist legally, but they want to tax gambling to the full extent of their authority. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board once posted an Internet video detailing all the ways gambling in Pennsylvania helps the citizens of the state, while the Pennsylvania Lottery's slogan is "Benefits Older Pennsylvanians Every Day".

Let's look closer at the government agencies created by Pennsylvania gaming statutes to get an idea how these organizations affect the lives of Pennsylvanians every day, especially those directly involved in the state's gambling industry.

Pennsylvania's Poker Laws

Almost all states in America attempt to define the act of gambling via state law. But while Pennsylvania law does have a lot to say about the subject of gambling, you won't find a clear definition of "gambling" on the books. Faced with such a situation, we're left to consider common sense and case law to determine whether or not poker is a form of gambling for the purposes of Pennsylvania law. The reasonable conclusion is that poker qualifies as gambling in Pennsylvania.

Per Pennsylvania law, gambling must be "specifically" authorized by law, or else it is considered "illegal gambling." So, if poker is gambling, to play poker legally in Pennsylvania you must do so in a manner specifically authorized by law.

Those conditions result in one primary outlet for legal poker in Pennsylvania: state-regulated casinos. The positive side is that such casinos have proliferated in Pennsylvania over the last few years, meaning residents who once had to drive to New Jersey or even Massachusetts to play poker in a live casino now have options much closer to home.

The exceptions for charitable gambling in Pennsylvania do not include poker. And, unlike neighboring Ohio, Pennsylvania does not have an exception for "social" gambling (aka your weekly home game).
But, in a final twist for poker players, the state of Pennsylvania does not seem to have any charges on the books for players. So, in theory, if everyone in the game is a player - and no one is operating the game for a profit - a private game of poker, while technically against the letter of the law, would seem to invite no risk of criminal charge.

Race Horse Development and Gaming Act of 2004 - Act 71

Both thoroughbred racing and harness racing is regulated by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission, which derives its power from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Laws are now enforced according to Act 71, more famously known as the "Race Horse Development and Gaming Act of 2004". Two separate governing bodies oversee the racing industry: Pennsylvania State Horse and State Harness Racing Commissions. These two bodies work closely together, enough so they are known together as "PA Racing".

Thoroughbred Horse Tracks Legal in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has three thoroughbred horse tracks, one each in Erie, Meadow Lands, and Grantville. The Erie horse track is named Presque Isle Downs & Casino, while the Meadow Lands track is called The Meadows Racetrack and Casino. The Grantville races are found at the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. 

Learn About Other State Laws

Harness Racing Legal in Pennsylvania

The harness racing industry is confined to the cities of Chester, Bensalem, and Wilkes-Barre. These race tracks are owned by several of the famous names in casino gambling, including Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack (Chester) and the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Harness racing is found at 15 different yearly county fairs throughout the state.

Those who haven't ever seen harness racing should understand that strategy comes into play quite often in this form of horse racing, especially on the smaller courses. Races are almost always 1 mile long in North America, but the courses are often 1/2 to 5/8 of a mile long, so getting a good start and getting positions for rounding turns becomes important. On longer courses, those horses which do well on straightaways have the ability to come from behind.

Charitable Gaming Laws

Charitable gaming law is found under Chapter 901 of the state law, though Act 71 greatly expanded the existing statutes. Most of the nonprofit gaming for charity foundations is done through bingo games.

Pennsylvania Lottery Laws

The Pennsylvania Lottery laws allow for a variety of lotto games, including local favorites like Treasure Hunt, Match 6, Cash 5, Quinto, and Big 4. Both of the famous multi-state lotteries, Mega Millions and Powerball, are active in Pennsylvania.

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