At their last meeting, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) made a little history, issuing approval for the first legal sportsbooks to operate in the state. Receiving the approval were the first two casino operators to apply, Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment, owners of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Parx Casino respectively.
Penn National stepped up to the plate first
Penn National had applied for this new privilege back in August, about a month after PA casino operators became eligible to apply. In anticipation of approval, Penn National has decided to partner with the well known and widely respected sportsbook operator William Hill, who has operated for a long time all across Europe and also operates sportsbooks in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi.
Senior Vice President of Regional Operations for Penn National, John Finamore wouldn’t give an exact time when the sportsbook would open at Hollywood casino, saying only it would be “in the next few months” but some details of the proposed operation are known.
First, Hollywood Casino will open a traditional retail sportsbook within the simulcast theater of the existing racebook. They will eventually follow that up with self-serve kiosks on the casino floor and (more importantly) mobile wagering via an app.
Greenwood Gaming swung twice
Greenwood’s approved sportsbook plan allows them to operate at two distinct locations, their flagship Parx Casino as well as the South Philadelphia Turf Club.
At Parx Casino (Pennsylvania’s largest), Greenwood will build a large permanent sportsbook that should be completed and operational by the end of the second quarter of 2019. In the meantime, they will set up a temporary sportsbook at the 360 Lounge on their main casino floor. This site should be operational sometime in January. At the temporary location, Parx will offer retail betting and will introduce their mobile offerings via a closed Wi-Fi network that is only available inside the casino.
Greenwood’s second sportsbook location at the Turf Club should open much sooner. The property is currently undergoing a $1 million renovation project but casino operators estimate the sportsbook will open sometime in November of this year.
Greenwood will also plans to launch a state-wide mobile sports betting app to take full advantage of this new gaming opportunity.
That’s two approved – who will be next?
Parx and Hollywood Casinos were the first to be issued their shiny new sports betting licenses, but at least a few more will soon follow. So far, five of Pennsylvania’s thirteen eligible casinos have applied. Rivers Casino, SugarHouse Casino, and Harrah’s Philadelphia are also in the cue but they won’t get a bite of the apple until the end of the month at the earliest. Perhaps then these operators will have the chance to present their sportsbook plans and hopefully have them approved.
Where are the rest of the applicants?
One might expect that when casinos were eligible to partake in the lucrative activity of taking sports bets that there would be a stampede for licenses. Five of thirteen showing up with applications doesn’t qualify as any kind of stampede. Especially since the window for applications at the PGCB has been open since mid-July and the five applications trickled in very slowly and hesitantly.
Perhaps casino operators lukewarm reaction to this new opportunity can be attributed to the fees and taxes involved. Pennsylvania is charging a cool $10 million for a sports betting license and will be taxing net revenues at a staggering 36% rate.
That kind of cost is bound to give operators some pause. For comparison, New Jersey taxes 8%. Nevada taxes 6.75%. The fees are much lower too.
If Pennsylvania wants to be competitive in this valuable new landscape (and reduce black market activity as well), they should think about lowering these fees and taxes to a more reasonable level.