HomeThe ShuffleSports Betting Heats Up in Pennsylvania

Sports Betting Heats Up in Pennsylvania

November sports wagers totaled $330 million

Pennsylvania continues to be a spearhead in the spread of newly legal sports betting in the U.S., as casinos in the state’s two largest cities have launched sports books. Sports wagers began last week at Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino and Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino.

Since both casinos are owned by Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, it was easy to coordinate the openings of books that represent the biggest leap so far in Pennsylvania’s sports-betting market. In November, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course became the first Pennsylvania casino to open a sports book, and Presque Isle Downs recently became the seventh of the 13 land-based licensees to file petitions to operate physical and online sports books.

Both SugarHouse and Rivers opened their books for tests last Thursday and officially opened for business at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 15.

The SugarHouse Casino Sportsbook is located just inside the north entrance, across from the Poker Night in America Poker Room. It occupies approximately 1,800 square feet, designed in the style of a luxury sports lounge. Club chairs and table seating accommodate approximately 70 guests. A state-of-the-art 14-by-seven-foot LED video wall anchors the viewing area, along with 12 additional flat-screen, high-definition monitors. Food and beverage service is available.

“We’re thrilled to make Philly history as the city’s first licensed sportsbook,” said Cheryl Duhon, general manager of SugarHouse Casino. “If our soft launch was any indication, there’s a big demand among Philly sports fans and gamers to get in on the action.”

SugarHouse Casino’s Sportsbook will offer betting on a wide array of sporting events including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, college sports and more. Bets include but are not limited to straight bets, parlays, totals and in-game betting. Initially, bets are cash only, and winning tickets can be redeemed at the SugarHouse Sportsbook during operating hours or at the casino’s cashiers’ cage when the Sportsbook is closed.

Meanwhile, across the state, Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh opened Western Pennsylvania’s first legal sports book in a region where sports fanaticism is commonplace.

The Rivers Sportsbook is located next to the High Limit Tables area. It occupies approximately 3,000 square feet, designed, as with SugarHouse, in the style of a luxury sports lounge. Club chairs and table seating accommodate approximately 98 guests. It is equipped the same as the SugarHouse book, with the state-of-the-art 14-by-seven-foot LED video wall along with 12 additional flat-screen, high-definition monitors.

Football, baseball, hockey, boxing and basketball bets are available. Bets on horse racing are not offered. The book features six self-serve betting kiosks and a counter with six terminals for placing bets with human operators.

“We’ve had a great reaction from our guests and the community to our soft launch, and we’re very excited to begin daily operations,” said Rivers Casino General Manager Bill Keena. “Many, many people have collaborated to make Rivers Sportsbook a reality, and we thank each and every one of them.”

David Eldridge laid down the first sports bet on Thursday: $10,000 on the New England Patriots against his hometown Steelers. He lost. The Steelers won and covered the 2.5-point spread.

“It was cool to get offered to do the first bet,” said Eldridge, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, in an interview with the Triblive.com website.

He got the honor because he was the first in line on Thursday.

Each of Pennsylvania’s licensees filing a sports-betting petition is responsible to pay a $10 million fee at the time the petition is accepted.

It had initially been widely assumed that no licensees would opt to open sports books after the state’s gaming expansion law set the gross revenue tax at an effective 36 percent, on a business that typically has a profit margin under 5 percent. However, the attraction of sports books as an amenity, combined with in-play bets and the soon-to-come online sports books, has led to more than half of the state’s licensees opting for petitions so far, with more expected to jump on the bandwagon.

Amenities offered alongside the sports book like the bars, restaurants, slots and table games are where Keena told Triblive he hopes to see an additional revenue bump, he said. “The big unknown is, we don’t know how much pent-up demand there is.”

If New Jersey is any indication, that demand will be substantial. Nearly $1 billion has been wagered in New Jersey since the first books opened last summer, with a total of $73.8 million in revenue generated. In November alone, wagers totaled$330 million, with more than $20 million in revenue generated.

Online sports betting will be available in Pennsylvania the first or second quarter of 2019, according to state Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach, who told Triblive that casinos could offer online sports betting even before they launch Internet casino gaming.

Meanwhile, the state’s first live sports book at Penn National’s Hollywood Casino is on fire. The casino’s William Hill-powered sports book generated $508,996.60 in revenue in the first two weeks after launch, according to figures released last week by the Gaming Control Board. That generated more than $183,000 in state and local taxes.

Sports-betting handle reached $1.4 million over the first 15 days, indicating a hold of 36 percent—an artificially high figure, observers say, likely to decline as more venues come on line.

“Nothing to comment on in regards to these early figures,” Harbach commented to Legal Sports Report. “From a higher level view, we certainly have been excited to work with the casinos to get the first three operations up and running, and look forward to helping other casinos to introduce sports books (in the) months ahead along with a launch in 2019 of internet-based options, too.”

The sports-betting surge in the state extended to its daily fantasy sports wagering. The gaming board reported $3.25 million in DFS wagers in November, generating $486,000 in tax revenue. DFS wagers and revenue have increased every month since wagering began in May.

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