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Online sports bets changing gambling in Pa.

Online sports wagering has only been available to Pennsylvanians for a few years, but it's taken off quickly. Pa. saw record-breaking sports betting in 2022.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — In just a few short years, sports betting has become a prominent and lucrative form of gambling in Pennsylvania.

Outside of Nevada, legal sports gambling was virtually impossible to find in the United States, until a landmark decision in 2018 changed betting forever.

In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court opened the door for nationwide sports betting, ruling the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional. It sent state lawmakers and gambling operators into a frenzy.

"By late May, applications were coming in, regulations were being written," said Josh Ercole, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania. "Pennsylvania was fully ready to start launching sports wagering almost immediately."

That same October, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course created the first legal sports bet in the state. The first online sportsbook arrived in May 2019. 

Ercole said it's quickly changed the betting landscape.

"We're talking about a period of just four or five years here," Ercole said. "It's truly remarkable when you think about how widespread this has become."

Pennsylvania now boasts 19 brick-and-mortar sports books and 14 online sports books. 

Internationally Certified Gambling Counselor Jody Bechtold said the pace picked up when online sports betting arrived, allowing bettors to wager on everything from the final score of the game, to the result of a single play.

"All a sudden you have these micro-transactions that you can do so frequently because you're chasing the fact that you know you're not going to win that final outcome bet," Bechtold said. "It's giving that rush, that dopamine release because it's something exciting and something pleasurable."

It was popular from the start. In 2019, Pennsylvania saw $2.5 billion in total sports wagers, or handle, $2.0 billion of which came from online sportsbooks. 

By 2022, that number nearly tripled, with $7.25 billion bet on sports in the state, setting a record. 

Kevin Kile, director of sports wagering at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, agrees that high-speed bets are a factor in the growing totals.

"I definitely think it contributes to a higher handle because you can wager not only on the outcome of the game before the game starts, but you can also wager in-play," Kile said.

"You think about the fact seven-and-a-quarter billion dollars in a calendar year, every single one of those dollars was put at risk," Ercole said.

It translates to big gains for operators and regulators. 

"There are so many beneficiaries of most of the regulated gambling, quite frankly, the largest being the state," Ercole said.

Sports betting generated more than $400 million in revenue in 2022. Pennsylvania's 36% tax rate for sports betting is the highest in the country. 

The state also charges operators a one-time $10 million fee for a sports betting license.

While the experts we spoke to said online sports betting can be fun and entertaining for many, it's also causing more problems.

"It's online and you don't feel your money. You're not handing your money over," Bechtold said. "That's a perfect storm for people to get in a lot of trouble in a very short amount of time."

"If somebody doesn't recognize some of those earlier signs, it may be difficult for them to, at some point further down the road, recover or rebound from some of the losses they're exhibiting," Ercole added.

Tune in to FOX 43 News Sunday, Feb. 12 after the Super Bowl, when we examine the increase in advertising and calls for help. Plus, why younger Pennsylvanians are more likely to get hooked. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with compulsive gambling, please call 1-800-GAMBLER. 

Download the FOX 43 app.

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