Sports betting takes big step to starting in Pennsylvania

Marc Levy
Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania, one of the nation's most aggressive gambling states, is closer to becoming the sixth state with sports betting after regulators Wednesday awarded the state's first sports betting licenses to two casinos.

The casinos have other requirements to meet that could take a couple months and miss baseball's World Series, but a November start could mean capturing the last weeks of fall's college football and NFL seasons and practically all of the hockey, college basketball and NBA seasons.

Friday, August 24, 2018--Hollywood Casino in Grantville, near Harrisburg, is operated by Penn National Gaming, which may open a mini-casino in York County. Bill Kalina photo

The owners of Parx Casino plan to offer sports betting through the suburban Philadelphia casino and horse-racing track and at an off-track betting parlor in Philadelphia called the South Philadelphia Turf Club. Both are controlled by London-based businessman Watche Manoukian.

Penn National Gaming, which already operates sports betting at casinos in two other states, applied for the Hollywood Casino and racetrack it owns near Hershey.

Parx Casino could begin offering sports betting in November on banks of TV screens showing a range of different sports.

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"People can watch pretty much any game that's on in the country," John Dixon, the chief technology officer of Parx Casino, told the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board during a hearing on the application Wednesday.

Owners of Pennsylvania's 12 casinos can pay a $10 million fee to operate sports betting. Three other casino owners are seeking sports-betting licenses, while several other casinos could open in the coming year or two.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting. Since then, sports books have opened in Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia, joining the grandfathered Nevada, where sports betting had been legal for decades.

It's not clear how much Pennsylvania can expect from its 36 percent tax on sports betting.

Mississippi's 8 percent tax amounted to $52,000 in August on the $645,000 lost by gamblers on $7.7 million in bets. In 2 1/2 months of sports betting in New Jersey, the state's 8.5 percent tax netted $1.1 million from the $16.5 million lost by gamblers on $153 million in bets.

Pennsylvania is already set to become the fourth state to allow online casino gambling, after awarding licenses to seven casinos in recent weeks.

Pennsylvania's casinos already rake in more gross revenues than any other state's casinos except Nevada's, American Gaming Association figures show, while Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state in tax revenue from the casino industry, at $1.4 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year.