Pennsylvania Land Based Casinos – Information, History, FAQ

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Amidst ongoing attempts to legalize online gaming in the state of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth’s brick-and-mortar industry has been going strong for over a decade.

As per the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the gross total gaming revenue from slot machines and table games exceeded $3.2 billion in 2016. It marked the sixth consecutive year in which total casino revenue topped $3 billion.

The state offers a diverse array of casinos and racinos, each subject to various licensing procedures and fees. This guide elaborates on the license types and specifics of each gambling establishment that operate within Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gambling Licenses

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has the authority to grant up to 14 licenses for permanent gaming operations.

As per the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act of 2004, also known as HB2330, three categories of licenses were created.

Seven licenses may be issued to “racinos,” five to standalone casinos and three to resort casinos.

Category 1: Racino

Category 1 licenses are granted to existing horse racing facilities, which were termed “racinos” when slot machines were incorporated into the facilities.

A Category 1 licenses grants the licensee the right to operate up to 250 table games and 5,000 slot machines within their facility.

In order to qualify for a Category 1 license, a facility must have live racing on the facility at least 100 days out of the year.

List of Category 1 licensees

  • Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in Chester
  • Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville
  • Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre
  • Parx Casino and Racing in Bethlehem
  • Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie
  • The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington

Category 2: Standalone Casinos

Category 2 licenses are granted to standalone brick-and-mortar casinos.

Category 2 licensees may operate up to 250 table games and 5,000 slot machines at their facilities.

Location Requirements

As required by HB2330, exactly two of the five Category 2 licensees must be in Philadelphia, and exactly one must be in Pittsburgh. With the exception of allowing two licensees to operate in Philadelphia, the law does not allow any Category 2 gambling facility to be located within 20 miles of any other Category 2 facility.

Category 2 licensees are also required to be at least a certain distance from the nearest Category 1 facility. This distance ranges from 10-30 miles, depending on a few factors.

List of category 2 licensees

  • Mount Airy Casino in Stroudsburg
  • Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh
  • Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in the Lehigh Valley
  • Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia

Category 3: Resort Casinos

Category 3 licenses are granted to two existing hotel facilities. The license restricts its holders to 50 table games and 600 slot machines.

A third Category 3 license has been authorized for creation and assignment in 2017.

Location Requirements

No Category 3 facility may be located within 15 miles of any other licensed gambling facility in the state of Pennsylvania.

List of Category 3 licensees

  • Valley Forge Casino Resort
  • Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin

Licensing Fees

Category 1 and 2 licensees pay a $50,000,000 initial fee to operate slot machines and a $24,750,000 initial fee to operate table games. The table game fee was $16,500,000 those who paid it prior to June 1st, 2010.

Category 3 licensees pay a $5,000,000 fee for slots and a $11,250,000 fee for table games. The table game fee for Category 3 was $7,500,000 prior to June 1st, 2010.

Pennsylvania Gambling Locations

Sands Casino Resort

  • Location: Bethlehem, PA
  • License Category: 2
  • Year Opened: 2009

The Sands Casino Resort is built on the 126-acre former site of the Bethlehem Steel Plant. The casino officially opened for business on May 22, 2009 after an approximate one-year delay due to construction-related issues.

Owned and operated by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, it was one of five casinos to be awarded a slots license by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) on December 20th, 2006.

The facility was granted a license for table games in winter of 2010, and those debuted on July 18th, 2010.

The accompanying Sands Hotel opened its doors on May 27th, 2011.

Valley Forge Casino Resort

  • Location: King of Prussia, PA
  • License Category: 3
  • Year Opened: 2012

The Valley Forge Casino Resort became the 11th casino to operate in the state when it opened on March 31st, 2012.

Before opening, they had to overcome a legal challenge by Parx Casino in which they claimed Valley Forge did not meet Category 3 requirements. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Valley Forge, paving the way for their opening.

The Valley Forge features 40,000 feet of space with 600 slot machines and 50 table games.

Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin

  • Location: Farmington, PA
  • License Category: 3
  • Year Opened: 2013

Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is owned and operated by Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc.

The casino resort opened on July 1st, 2013 and features approximately 600 slot machines and 29 table games.

Presque Isle Downs and Casino

  • Location: Erie, PA
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2007

The Presque Isle Downs and Casino is a racino owned and operated by Eldorado Resorts. It broke ground in October 2005 and opened for business on February 28th, 2007.

The site contains 2,000 slot machines and a comprehensive array of table games, including a state-of-the-art poker room and a High Limit Room.

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino

  • Location: North Strabane Township, PA (near Washington, PA)
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2007

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino is a standardbred harness racing track and slot machine casino approximately 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. The facility is owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties and is operated by Pinnacle Entertainment.

The racetrack opened on June 28th, 1963 and received its casino license on September 27th, 2006. Construction broke ground on November 16, 2006 and a temporary casino officially opened for business on June 11, 2007. The permanent facility opened on April 15, 2009.

The casino features 350,000 square feet of space and over 3,300 slot machines. Table games made their debut on July 8, 2010 after an invite-only test date on July 6th.

The Meadows is renowned for its use of RFID game chips, which feature a microchip that confirms that the chip is legitimate. This measure prevents the counterfeiting of chips.

Rivers Casino

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • License Category: 2
  • Year Opened: 2009

Rivers Casino is located along the Ohio River in Pittsburgh’s Chateau neighborhood. It is one of two properties in the state, along with Sugarhouse Casino, operated by Rush Street Gaming.

The casino is owned by Holdings Acquisition Co. L.P., a joint venture between Walton Street Capital LLC and High Pitt Gaming LP. The company took over a majority interest after original owner Don H. Barden defaulted on loans and payments to contractors.

The facility was one of five to be awarded a Category 2 slots license on December 20th, 2006. Ground broke on the casino in December of 2007, and it opened on August 9th, 2009.

The casino features more than 120,000 square feet, nearly 3,000 slot machines and 100 table games.

Harrah’s Philadelphia

  • Location: Chester, PA
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2007

Located on the waterfront in Chester, Pennsylvania, Harrah’s received its temporary slot license on September 27th, 2006 and its permanent license on December 20th of the same year. The racino opened on January 22th, 2007.

The casino features 100,000 square feet, 2,900 slot machines and a 14,000 square foot event center. Its table games debuted on July 18th, 2010.

The facility is owned by Chester Downs and Marina, LLC, a division of Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Mohegan Sun Pocono

  • Location: Wilkes-Barre, PA
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2006

Mohegan Sun Pocono, located in the Plains Township on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre, is a racino featuring 2,300 slots and more than 90 live blackjack, poker and roulette tables.

The racino was the first to open in Pennsylvania, beginning operating in November of 2006. The casino was also one of the first to begin offering table games, beginning on July 13th, 2010.

The facility is owned by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and features 82,000 square feet of gaming space.

Sugarhouse Casino

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • License Caegory: 2
  • Year Opened: 2010

Sugarhouse Casino is one of five standalone casinos that was awarded a license on December 20th, 2006. Its groundbreaking occurred on October 9th, 2009, and the casino officially opened for business on September 23rd, 2010.

The complex boasts a whopping 1.3 million square feet and is built on the site of the former Jack Frost sugar refinery. Sugarhouse offers 1,602 slot machines and 54 table games, along with retail and dining outlets and an event center.

Sugarhouse was the biggest grower in 2016 among PA casinos with total gaming revenue of $297.7 million, a 10.7% increase over 2015.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National

  • Location: Grantville, PA
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2008

Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties, opened its racino on February 12th, 2008 and debuted table games on July 23rd, 2010.

The Hollywood Casino features over 2,377 reel slot, video slot and video poker machines, along with over 50 table games and 16 poker tables.

Parx Casino

  • Location: Bensalem, PA
  • License Category: 1
  • Year Opened: 2009

Parx Casino, owned by Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, Inc., opened its casino doors on December 18th, 2009.  The racino received its license on September 27th, 2006 and debuted table games on July 18th, 2010.

Parx features 3,500 slots, 130 live table games and an 80-table poker room.

Mount Airy Casino

  • Location: Mount Pocono, PA (near Stroudsburg, PA)
  • License Category: 2
  • Year Opened: 2007

Mount Airy Casino, located in Mount Pocono, opened on October 22nd, 2007 and debuted table games on July 23rd, 2010.

The casino features more than 1,800 slots and a full array of table games, including Baccarat, Roulette, Craps, Blackjack and Poker.