Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both had successful opening weekends for legal sports betting. Both of these cities are crazy about their sports, so expectations are strong that this activity will be a massive success.
There were long lines of people at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh waiting to place their bets before the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game. Heinz Field, where the team plays, is only a short distance from the casino. The Rivers Casino underwent extensive tests before opening for business on December 15.
It was also on December 15 that the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia opened its sportsbook. Currently, SugarHouse is operating in a temporary facility. That casino also underwent two days of stringent testing before its grand opening
Road to legalization
Pennsylvania has the second highest gambling revenues in the United States, behind only Nevada. The state has been having a very successful year, hitting record highs.
Therefore, legal sports betting seems like a natural evolution. However, it has been something of a long, drawn-out process getting there.
Online gambling and sports betting officially became legal in Pennsylvania in October 2017. However, sports betting was still illegal on a federal level. This changed when the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban in May.
Several states have passed sports betting bills and opened sportsbooks, but various issues prevented Pennsylvania from joining this list until November. The main problems were the application process for sports betting licenses and high tax rates.
Each license costs $10m (£7.9m) and there is a lengthy application process. The hefty tax rate of 36% on sports betting revenues was also a concern for a lot of operators who were thinking about applying for licenses.
License applications came in slowly as a result. Most of the other states with legal sports betting have more reasonable tax rates of between 6.75% and 12%.
The high tax rate is a disincentive to sportsbooks to advertise their offerings. Players will also not receive as competitive odds as the black market, because the operators will try to pass on some of the costs onto the bettor.
Despite these challenges, a number of applications were given the green light in October. The first licenses went to the Hollywood Casino and the Parx Casino and Racing facility. They both made their applications in August and only got the go-ahead in October from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Now the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and the Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia have opened their sportsbooks. Several licenses are still up for grabs, and the authorities are allowing out-of-state operators to apply for them.
While online gambling is legal in the state, there are currently no provisions for online sports betting. Numerous petitions have been filed to allow online betting, but this is not likely to change soon.
There are a lot of expectations for the sportsbooks in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Outside of Las Vegas, these are the first sportsbooks to come to a major sporting city.
Talking about their launch, the general manager for SugarHouse Casino, Cheryl Duhon, said: “We’re thrilled to make Philly history as the city’s first licensed sportsbook. If our soft launch was any indication, there’s a big demand among Philly sports fans and gamers to get in on the action.”
While neighboring states such as Delaware and New Jersey have been operating their sportsbooks a lot longer, Pennsylvania sportsbooks aren’t at too much of a disadvantage.
SugarHouse, for example, has been learning the ropes in New Jersey, where the casino has been operating an online sportsbook since the middle of August. This will drastically cut down on the learning curve that is common with new sportsbooks.
Because there is no online sports betting, the venues are working extra hard to attract customers. This includes having top-class lounges and great sports betting offers. There also great restaurants and competitive bars on the premises, which will make them popular destinations even for non-sports-betting fans.