New to Online Sports Betting? Here’s Your Guide
New to online sports betting? If so, you’re not alone. Pennsylvania sports betting is a relatively recent addition to residents’ options for entertainment, but it draws on systems and technologies that are well-established in other states. Here’s a deep look at online sports betting to help you understand the ins and outs.
A Brief History of Sports Betting in Pennsylvania
In a 2018 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was illegitimate and struck it down. This law broadly prevented states from enacting laws regarding online sports betting.
Shortly after, the Pennsylvania legislature began accepting applications for online and casino-based sports betting licenses. The primary catalyst for this was Pennsylvania’s 2017 Act 42, which broadly authorized the state to permit and regulate sports gambling once federal law allowed it.
The Supreme Court’s decision essentially came down to the fact that the federal Congress was able to regulate gambling, but if it chose not to, states could decide individually. Betting has become quite popular in Pennsylvania, so the state has moved quickly in allowing it.
Who Can Legally Bet On Sports In Pennsylvania?
Like most states, there are three main requirements for betting on sports in Pennsylvania. You must:
- Be 21 or older
- Have a U.S. Social Security Number (or equivalent, in some cases)
- Be residing in Pennsylvania
While states may have additional exceptions or limits on things, these are the three most common requirements. However, the last one requires a little more explanation. (If you’re curious about the second requirement, it’s mainly for tax purposes.)
Unlike many activities, sports betting is a tightly-regulated activity that occurs on a state-by-state basis and you have to follow the rules for the state you’re in. This means that if you’re not in a state where sports betting is legal, you can’t do it.
Being in a state that accepts betting isn’t the end of it, either. States have different regulations when they permit it at all, so online sportsbooks may have different websites for each state they operate in.
Keep in mind that you must be inside Pennsylvania to use services that operate in the state. If you live in Pennsylvania but travel to a state that bans online gambling, you can’t bet on sports while you’re away from home. Similarly, if you live in a state that forbids sports betting, you can still place bets if you travel to Pennsylvania.
All About Sports Betting
Now that we know how sports betting got its start in Pennsylvania, let’s take a closer look at how a sportsbook works in the state.
The first thing to know is that operations can vary by company, but most comply with state law. This means you may not see the same types of bets in each mobile sportsbook. For that matter, you may not see the same odds on each site, either.
Here are some basic definitions of online sports betting:
- Sportsbook: A sportsbook is a place where you can bet on the outcome of sporting events. Companies like DraftKings offer sportsbooks for online sports betting in Pennsylvania. Some of these gambling companies also offer other betting services, like casino-type games, but those aren’t part of the sportsbook.
- Action: An action is either the total amount wagered on a specific event or an option available for betting. In this context, sportsbooks accept actions when players want to make a bet.
- Alternate Line: An alternate line is a set of odds that are either higher or lower than the main line. This is common in games with a point spread or a point total for bets. For example, in football, there may be an alternate line if you want to bet on a certain score for the outcome, not just a winner.
- American Odds: Sports bets in America usually use American odds, which are + and – symbols ahead of numbers. Favorites have a – sign and the number indicates how much you need to risk to win $100. Underdogs have a + sign, and the number indicates how much you will win for betting $100.
- Bad Beat: A bad beat is when a bet seems like it’s going to be a winner, but changes to become a loser. This is more common towards the end of games and matches, where you may see something like a come-from-behind victory.
- Bankroll: A bankroll is the money in a player’s account that they can use for betting. A bankroll usually increases with successful wagers and decreases with losing wagers, with money held (but not spent) until the bet resolves. Note that there may be limits on how fast you can withdraw money from a bankroll.
- Bet: A bet is a wager involving money. Bets can take many forms, from guessing the winner of a particular match to estimating score totals, player actions, or other details relating to the game. Some bets have nothing to do with the game itself.
- Betting Strategy: A betting strategy is a player’s plan to try and beat the sportsbook’s odds and make a profit. People who are only betting for fun may not have a strategy.
- Bettor: Alternative term for a player.
- Book: A book is the shorthand term for a bookmaker or sportsbook.
- Bookmaker: A bookmaker is a person legally authorized to set betting odds and accept bets from players. Bookmakers are some of the most important employees working for a sportsbook.
- Chalk: Chalk is an alternate term for the favorite in a bet, which is the result bookmakers expect from the game. However, remember that favorites are only a guess, and outcomes in betting are often unpredictable.
- Circled Game: A circled game is one with limits on how much you can bet, usually low amounts. Bookmakers circle a game when there are significant unknowns about the results, like sudden player injuries or weather that’s likely to affect results.
- Closing Line: A closing line is the final set of odds placed before a competition. Odds can change over time as a competition gets closer, but once the closing line goes up, that’s it.
- Co-Favorite: A co-favorite occurs when two or more options have the same chance to win. Co-favorites are most common for bets with many potential results, such as which teams are likely to reach the playoffs in a given sport.
- Dog: Short for the underdog.
- Double Action: A double action is when you make a bet that, if you win the first one, automatically takes the winnings and places them on another option.
- Draw: A draw is when an event ends in a tie. Some bets let you pick a draw as an option, in which case you’d win. In most other cases, a draw results in bets going back to players, as there’s no winner.
- Edge: An edge is an advantage a player can gain through research or information most people don’t have.
- Even Money: An even money is a bet that returns the original amount. Unsurprisingly, most people try to avoid these, as there’s no point in risking any money if there’s no return.
- Exposure: Exposure is the amount of money someone could lose on a wager. This term applies to both players and bookmakers.
- Favorite: The favorite is the most likely result in a match, as estimated from the information available. For example, if a high school soccer player is competing against a pro player to get the most goals in a certain number of kicks, the pro player is the favorite because they’re far more experienced.
- Fixed Odds: Fixed odds refer to the odds on a bet when a player makes their wager. If the odds change later, which is common until the closing line, the player keeps the odds they bet at. Fixed odds ensure a player receives the potential return the bookmaker offered when the player placed the bet.
- Futures Bet: A futures bet is made on an event taking place in the future, but not in a game that’s about to happen. For example, many people bet on the outcome of the Super Bowl, trying to guess both the teams that will make it and who will win it.
- Graded Bet: A graded bet is one that bookmakers have marked as a winner, a draw, or a loser after the event. Winnings (and refunds) are paid after grading.
- Handicap: A handicap is a set of odds that help level the field between unequal results. For example, if one team is seen as clearly weaker than another, bookmakers may give them a handicap that turns them into winners if they lose the game by less than the handicap.
- Handle: A handle is the total amount that a bookmaker takes as bets on a specific game.
- Hedge: A hedge is when someone bets on both sides of a wager. Careful hedging can set up near-guaranteed returns in gambling, but at a lower profit than people who place all their money on the winner.
- In-Play Bet: An in-play bet is one offered in the middle of an event, rather than set before. Bookmakers often offer in-play bets based on events that are happening in a game. For example, if a player is doing poorly in baseball, bookmakers may allow an in-play bet on who a coach will replace that player with.
- Juice: Juice is the amount bookmakers can earn from bets and is factored into the odds.
- Limit: Limits are the high and low amounts that bookmakers set for a bet. Players must bet at least the minimum limit and cannot bet more than the maximum limit. Players may also have personal limits as part of bankroll management.
- Line: Lines are the odds posted by a bookmaker.
- Lock: Alternate term for odds on favorite.
- Longshot: Alternate term for the underdog, especially when the underdog is at a significant perceived disadvantage.
- Moneyline: A moneyline is a simple bet with no point spread. In a moneyline, players need to bet on the winner of the match.
- Multiple Bet: A multiple bet is a single wager involving two or more sections. All sections must win to cash the multiple bet. Predicting multiple things is difficult, so multiple bets often have much higher payouts than single bets.
- No Action: No action occurs when bookmakers cancel a bet and return all stakes. This usually occurs when something makes results impossible, like a game being canceled at the last minute.
- Novelty Bet: Alternate term for exotic bets.
- Odds: The odds are the betting lines set by bookmakers for events.
- Odds on Favorite: An odds on favorite is viewed as significantly more likely to win. Betting on them offers a small return because they’ll almost certainly win.
- Odds Shopping: Odds shopping is the process of comparing odds at different sportsbooks to find the best value. For example, if one sportsbook offers +200 and another offers +250, you can earn more with a correct prediction by betting on the one offering +250.
- Over/Under: An over/under bet (also written as over under, without the slash) is a wager placed on the total points (terminology varies by game) scored in a match. Players have to decide whether both teams combined will earn over or under the specified amount. The number is usually a fraction, such as 12.5, to avoid draws.
- Parlay: A parlay is a bet involving multiple games. The more games involved, the higher the payout. A draw is usually enough to advance a parlay, but a single loss means the entire wager fails.
- Payout: A payout is a player’s earnings from a winning wager. This typically includes the player’s original stake for the bet.
- Player: A person making bets through a sportsbook. Also known as a bettor, which can help avoid confusion with the players in the game.
- Point Spread: A point spread is similar to a handicap and it’s designed to even out the field between unequal teams. This encourages players to bet on both sides of a match. Most point spreads aim to result in odds (and bets) as close to an even spread as possible.
- Professional Player: A player who bets frequently and tries to earn a living from making wagers on sports.
- Proposition Bet: A proposition bet is a special wager on specific events in a game. Major games tend to have more prop bets.
- Push: Alternative term for a draw.
- Recreational Player: A recreational player is someone who plays casually, usually making only a few bets each season.
- Sell Point: Players can use sell points to change things like point spreads for their wager. The bookmaker gets additional juice for each point changed, discouraging players from doing this too much.
- Stake: A stake is the amount of money a player puts on a bet. Players typically get this back if they win.
- Ticket: Tickets are receipts that bookmakers give to confirm that wagers are accepted. In online sports betting, tickets are usually digital and may be sent to a player’s email.
- Tip: A tip is an advice given by a more experienced person on how to bet well.
- Underdog: Underdogs are the less-likely result in a bet, and therefore offer a better payout if they end up winning. Bookmakers often give a handicap to the underdog to make the bet more enticing, especially if the two sides are extremely mismatched.
- Wager: A wager is the act of placing a bet on an event.
How It Works
Now that you know the most common terms for sports betting let’s talk about how PA sports betting works in practice.
Most bets are available shortly after an event is announced. Bookmakers need time to research the odds and figure out how to price things before they start accepting bets.
As the event gets closer, odds can change based on several factors, including who the bookmaker thinks will win and how people are betting. Bookmakers want to keep wagers roughly equal on both sides, so they may adjust point spreads or provide handicaps to encourage more wagers in certain ways.
Once a bet is accepted, it’s final. From there, all that’s left is to wait for the game to happen, at which point the sportsbook can calculate the winnings. This is mostly automatic once the information goes into the system, but they do need to process things like parlays and update accounts accordingly.
While there are many bet types available, you can get started by placing simple bets on the outcome of games.
Online Betting in Pennsylvania
The regulations for online sports betting in Pennsylvania are relatively straightforward. Online betting can be done anywhere in the state, including on desktop computers and mobile devices.
However, online sportsbooks cannot have more than one “skin”, or appearance on the internet. This means a company like DraftKings cannot operate other websites with different branding.
Players can sign up anywhere in the state without having to show up in person.
Revenue from sports bets gets taxed at 36% in Pennsylvania. Sportsbooks usually withhold federal taxes once you hit about $5000 in winnings, and federal taxes start coming into play as reportable income around the time you hit $600.
Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not restrict bets made on college-level sports. Similarly, they do not require using official league data, though results are usually easy to verify regardless.
Online Betting Options in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has several sports betting apps available for wagers. Authorized PA sportsbooks are generally reliable and well-regulated for bets though, as always, you should only make bets that you can afford to lose.
Here are some of the options available in Pennsylvania.
BetMGM Online Sportsbook
BetMGM is one of the services run by MGM Resorts International, which offers a range of luxury resorts worldwide. The parent company focuses on Las Vegas, which naturally lends itself to online betting, and that’s on top of a series of partnerships.
MGM Resorts is an official sponsor and betting partner for many major leagues, including the NBA, MLB, and NFL. Beyond merely offering a sportsbook, their status as an official partner adds security and authenticity to their performance.
The BetMGM sportsbook offers wagers on a wide selection of games. Aside from the big draws of basketball, football, and baseball, they accept bets on college football games, golf, mixed martial arts, boxing, Formula 1 racing, and even table tennis.
While they don’t offer bets on every sport, BetMGM’s spread of options is relatively large, and they tend to post a wide spread of bets for each game. For example, in hockey games, you can expect to see things like winning margins, goal scorers, and correct scores for the game.
BetMGM allows betting on a wide range of more time-limited sports. While these aren’t always available, they have guidelines for everything from beach volleyball and bull riding to swimming and the Olympic games. They may be willing to add lines for specific events on request.
However, it’s worth noting that they only accept people placing bets on their behalf, so you can’t place bets for others.
Betting options are relatively straightforward here. However, BetMGM’s support from non-gambling revenue sources gives it more reliability than some of its competitors. Between that and the smart management, it’s unlikely they’ll go under as long as they operate well, so they’re more likely to stick around.
BetRivers Online Sportsbook
BetRivers is another major online sportsbook operating in Pennsylvania. They stand out for having a wider range of bets than many of their competitors. While you can place bets on the standard popular sports, they also support games like Jai-Alai, which you don’t normally expect to see on a list.
BetRivers is owned and operated by Rush Street Interactive, which runs many online and in-person gambling options. Rush Street Interactive operates strictly in legal and well-regulated markets, and its executive chairman Neil Bluhm has a long record of developing casinos and real estate.
Wagers on BetRivers cover a wide spectrum of options, including live games, upcoming events, and distant future bets. Betting options can reach hundreds of choices per game, which gives a lot of on-demand flexibility for betting on whatever you want.
However, BetRivers may also be complicated for people new to online betting. It can be hard to know what’s worth betting on until you have a little more experience with online betting, and it’s okay to take your time and learn about each option before you start placing wagers.
Fortunately, they hide most bets behind links. If you want to keep it simple, you can place bets on a spread, an outright win, or the total points for the game and leave it at that. It’s a nice touch for their system, and it makes them easier to recommend.
Caesars Online Sportsbook
Caesars sportsbook is an online option owned and operated by William Hill, a British bookmaker company that entered the United States through the Nevada market. William Hill currently operates more than a hundred race and sportsbooks in the United States, with additional parts of its portfolio covering chunks of Europe.
William Hill is connected to Caesars Entertainment (the same company that owns and operates the iconic Caesars Palace in Las Vegas), although its European operations are currently owned and run by 888 Holdings instead.
Caesars Online offers a wide array of bets on sporting events, including the major options of baseball, football, and basketball. Other betting options include rugby, golf, and auto racing. Unlike some other companies, Caesars has a selection of boosts, which are multi-option underdog bets they want to push.
Caesars hosts many bets for most games, but they can be a little hard to find unless you know where to look. That’s not a bad thing because it helps avoid overwhelming you with options, but it’s worth noting. If you navigate to a specific game, you can use a scroll bar to see the different types of bets available.
Caesars has generally standard house rules. Remember to read their rules for specific sports before placing bets. Reading those will help you understand how the bets work, what their terms mean, and what you can expect as the game goes on.
DraftKings Online Sportsbook
DraftKings is one of the most well-known names in sports betting, and with good cause. Although they got started with fantasy sports, they’ve since expanded into regular sports betting and accept wagers on a solid selection of events.
Unusually, DraftKings is the direct owner and operator of its sportsbook, a sharp contrast to other organizations where the sportsbook is part of holdings or a larger company. After launching in New Jersey (whose rules and regulations have shaped it), DraftKings has grown to multiple millions of users.
On average, DraftKings doesn’t offer as many exotic bets on most games as many other online betting services. Popular games like football still receive quite a few potential choices, often numbering in the dozens, but that’s below the hundreds you may find elsewhere. In that sense, DraftKings is more approachable for people new to sports betting.
Their house rules are relatively reader-friendly and worth a look before placing bets through their system. In particular, players should note that DraftKings has a payout limit of $500,000, which is lower than some competing services. This isn’t an issue for most players, but if you’re looking for a large bet, DraftKings isn’t the best choice.
FanDuel Online Sportsbook
FanDuel is well-known as a top rival of DraftKings in the fantasy gaming space, but like its competitor, it focuses particularly hard on fantasy sports over regular betting. The two companies initially had plans to merge but were blocked because it would functionally create a monopoly.
FanDuel operates under Flutter Entertainment, an Irish company that runs a range of gambling brands worldwide. They have a much larger reach than many competing services, and a recent run of aggressive acquisitions has further enhanced their portfolio.
FanDuel focuses on fewer sports than some competitors, emphasizing more-popular games with its options. Notably, it includes horse racing among the options, which some other sportsbooks don’t.
Outside of its regular bets, FanDuel usually has a wide selection of exotic bets for each sport. For example, in baseball, they often have bets on things like getting multiple hits, the first pitch result, and whether specific players will do certain things in-game.
In that sense, FanDuel is often narrower but deeper than DraftKings. Both of them are well-known and reliable sportsbooks, however, so the difference between them is mainly player preference.
Online sports betting has exploded since it became legal a few years ago. From services run by existing entertainment companies to brand-new organizations that focus on betting, there are plenty of options available.
Pennsylvania is quite gambling-friendly and has the largest market outside of Nevada. Careful regulations help ensure that sports betting is fair, fun, and accessible for players. If you’re interested, many sportsbooks have introductory offers and free-to-play modes that can let you test the waters before you start betting. Try those today and see why so many people love it!