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Online poker is almost certainly legal in Pennsylvania. The courts have recently ruled that poker is a skill game (which changes its legal standing) and there are no laws that particularly make it illegal for you to play online poker in the Keystone State.
As of 2016, online poker in Pennsylvania is a slight gray area. We look into the facts in our detailed guide to legal online poker sites as it pertains to the state of Pennsylvania.
Some of Pennsylvania's early struggles with gambling can be exemplified by the situation in Berks County. Gambling had been popular for years before the 1920s, but Prohibition seemed to bring more people to the games, and local authorities seemed to care little about attacking the huge problem. One of the most famous gambling establishments in that time period was one run on Penn Street in Reading by Tony Moran. It contained card rooms and dice rooms, and another place down the street gave bettors a place to play the numbers. While police began to raid some facilities in the 1930s, they left others alone because of payoffs. Raid became more popular in the decades to come, though, though it wasn't until well after World War II that the authorities got the upper hand on gambling. Just as with today's online poker sites in Pennsylvania, the law isn't always sure how to approach such a broad situation.
Q. Why would the lottery feel so strongly in opposition to online gambling?
A. A federal bill to legalize online gambling allows people to bet on things from their own home, rather than go to the store to buy lottery tickets. The Pennsylvania State Lottery Commission was afraid, per its 2010 letter, that retailers will suffer after coming to depend on lottery ticket income. Though Pennsylvania poker sites would be an entirely different arena than lottery tickets, as poker is a skill game and the lottery is pure chance, the lottery officials didn't seem to understand the difference when they took a stand.
Q. Will Pennsylvania consider online lottery sales?
A. Considering the opinion of online gambling and feelings about online poker in Pennsylvania, it is unlikely the state will move toward putting lottery tickets on the Internet.
Q. If other states accept online gambling, either at the state or federal level, will Pennsylvania reconsider?
A. This may happen. Pennsylvania invited casinos to the state when Atlantic City established itself and took residents out of Pennsylvania. If other East Coast states, like Vermont, join New Jersey and Delaware to legalize online gambling, legal Pennsylvania online poker sites may be a viable consideration. Competition and the undeniable revenue stream may change minds, at least in the legislature.
Q. Do poker players have any say in the matter?
A. Online poker in Pennsylvania may depend on residents of the state becoming a strong force on the subject. If legislators receive enough communication regarding one particular issue, they must examine it as representatives of the people. A groundswell of support could bring the issue to the forefront of political discussions.
Also in the 1930s, betting on harness and thoroughbred racing was legalized. From that point on, it wasn't until 1971 that gambling was debated by Pennsylvania again, and that was to legalize the state lottery, though scandal of lottery cheating required that regulations be strengthened. The state was liable for the cheating; there was no oversight at the time, but a new regulatory structure emerged. The current format of oversight is something similar to what is proposed for Pennsylvania poker sites. Ten years later, charity bingo was added to legalized forms of gambling. Pennsylvania then took on the topic of casinos, as the state was losing money as residents traveled to Atlantic City to gamble. Campaigns for legalization were sponsored by casinos like Caesars World, but bills failed to pass the legislature in 1981, 1982, and 1983. More failed attempts took the state into the 21st century, and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was founded in 2004, leading up to the first casino licenses issued in 2006 to horse racing facilities and stand-alone casinos. Slot machines were the main course, and games like poker and blackjack were added in 2010.
Poker is now allowed in the casinos and tracks around the state, but social gambling is complicated because it is not specifically addressed in the state laws. While poker can be played for charity with the approval of local authorities, home games where a rake is taken or the house profits from the game whatsoever is a gray area. Most other states prohibit such games, but Pennsylvania isn't specific about what is and is not gambling. Similarly, the law says nothing in particular about Pennsylvania online poker sites or any type of Internet gambling. To contact your legislator, click here: Find Your Legislator.
The State Lottery Commission did take a stand against federal online gambling regulation efforts by Senator Harry Reid in 2010. The official statement indicated that the opposition stemmed from damage that legal Pennsylvania online poker websites could do to lottery sales, as people would be able to gamble from home and be less likely to buy lottery tickets from various locations around the state. Since that time, however, Pennsylvania has not addressed the issue.