Pennsylvania Inches Closer To Launching Its First Online Gambling Format

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The PA Department of Revenue (DOR) released a set of temporary regulations for online lottery games (iLotto) this week, laying the groundwork for a vertical that could become a big moneymaker for the state.

iLotto was perhaps one of the lesser-hyped pieces of an expansive gambling bill passed last fall, which also legalized Internet casinos, several satellite gaming venues and potentially sports betting. But unlike online gambling sites, which may not launch until November, online lottery is entirely controlled by the state, and should therefore get up and running much sooner.

Today’s announcement speeds up that timeline and gives PA gamblers a clearer picture of what they can expect from the state’s forthcoming iLotto products.

Key takeaways

Pennsylvania’s relative iLottery framework will look similar to the one already in place in Michigan, which launched its own successful online lottery back in 2014. It already seems clear there will be some significant differences, however, especially in areas like game selection and eligibility.

Who can play?

To play PA iLotto, gamblers must meet the following requirements:

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  • Must be at least 18 years of age (compared with 21+ for online casinos)
  • Must be physically geo-located within the state
  • Cannot be directly related to an officer or employee of the DOR

There’s no language suggesting that PA iLotto players be residents of the state in order to play. Instead, it’s only indicated that they be inside the borders of the Commonwealth to do so. States like Michigan and Georgia require registrants to be residents.

A similar rule is on the books for PA online casinos, which will allow out-of-state players to gamble online for real money even if they are just passing through.

On the other hand, this means that PA residents who travel outside the state will be unable to access iLotto and online casino games until they return.

Game types could be limited

Most US state lotteries feature three general categories of online lotto games: Instant wins, draw games and monitor games. For now, PA seems keen to limit its selection to instant wins, possibly adding draw games like Mega Millions and Powerball at a later date.

Most would compare instant win games to physical scratch off tickets, the likes of which can be purchased at retailers throughout the state. Online though, players need only to push a button to find out if they have won a prize, avoiding the need to scratch off any special ink.

Software makers have gotten very creative in producing instant win variations for Internet patrons, developing elaborate titles which sometimes resemble sophisticated online slots. Michigan offers a number of these types of games, many of which feature themes and design elements already familiar to slots players.

But PA officials have been wary about the potential for iLotto and online casino games to cannibalize each other, and have included language in their regulations which might rule out these type of slots-centric products.

It states that iLotto games cannot “represent physical, Internet-based or monitor-based interactive lottery games which simulate casino-style lottery games, specifically including poker, roulette, slot machines and blackjack.”

This could all but rule out games which use designs based on what look like slot reels, and others that are themed around cards or roulette wheels.

Transparency and problem gambling

The DOR provisions also aim to ensure that players completely understand the rules of the games that they are playing along with their true odds of banking a win. At minimum, the online lottery website will need to include the following information:

  • Clear and concise explanations of how each game is played
  • Price range to play a single game
  • The chances of winning each prize
  • Where funding for prizes originates from

What’s more, PA regulators take problem gambling very seriously, and will offer several ways for players to either cool off or exclude themselves from iLotto entirely.

Patrons who choose self-exclusion for a specified time will not be allowed to play for real money, withdraw or deposit funds into their iLottery account. Furthermore, they cannot be sent any type of promotions or communications regarding online lottery games.

Creating an account

To create an account at PA’s forthcoming iLotto site, players will need to divulge the following personal information to verify their identity:

  • Name and date of birth
  • Social Security Number (last four digits only)
  • Home address
  • Phone number

PA lottery background

Pennsylvania voted to legalize lottery games in 1971, selling its first ticket the following year. The industry falls under the purview of the Department of Revenue, which will oversee the budding iLotto vertical as well.

Profits garnered from the state lottery – which amounted to $1.044 billion for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 – are funneled into programs that assist elderly residents. The state is hoping that the PA online lottery will go even further in this regard, generating an extra $250 million in revenue by 2023.

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Bill Grinstead

Bill has over a decade of experience working in diverse aspects of the online gambling space. He is currently focused on legal, US online gaming, which he has reported on since the industry first became regulated in the country.

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