November, 2018 will be a landmark month in the history of Pennsylvania casino gaming when legal sports betting operations begin in just a few weeks – most likely at Hollywood Casino Penn National, just outside of Philadelphia.
How we got here
A little over a year ago, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed legislation greatly expanding legal casino gaming in the state. In the bill, many new forms of gaming including daily fantasy sports, online slots, online poker, and online casino games were all slated to be legalized, regulated, and taxed (heavily). Perhaps most importantly for the sports-loving denizens of the state, sports betting was included on that list.
That took care of the state prohibition. Then, almost six months ago, the federal restrictions were lifted when the US Supreme Court repealed the law that outlawed sports betting across the nation.
Next came a mad scramble of regulations, license fees, and applications. Casinos who wanted a bite of the shiny new apple that is legal sports betting had to pony up $10 million for a sports betting license and submit an application to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). The casino operators also had to be willing to suffer the 36% tax rate to be imposed on sports betting revenues.
Perhaps because of these hefty fees and taxes, the thirteen eligible casino operators in the state haven’t exactly stampeded forward to take advantage of this new opportunity. Nevertheless, five of them have taken the plunge, and the first should open its doors in just a few weeks. The others could well be up and running by years end.
Just waiting for the final go-ahead
It has been somewhat uncertain when the PGCB would give the official green-light for approved casino operators to launch their brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. Last Wednesday the situation became clearer when it was announced that PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole has been given the power to officially give the go-ahead himself.
This speeds up the process of final approval because rather than waiting for the next PGCB meeting on November 28, O’Toole can give the nod to any approved operator at any point. Exactly when he will do so will depend on whether each casino is actually ready to launch and will involve a heavily scrutinized test opening to ensure the sportsbooks run smoothly an according to regulations.
As PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach said in an email, this “is a normal process we undertake to have those in authority, such as (O’Toole) and likely a couple Board members, be involved in the testing.”
“We have done this over the years for the opening of a casinos in which there have been full test nights, and when table games launched we also had test periods that were observed and those with authority ‘signed off’ on the readiness to offer to the public. We will have similar test periods for sports wagering and expect to announce the first of those soon.”
Hollywood Casino will probably open first in November
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course is expected to open it’s sportsbook for business in just a few weeks.
They are partnered with UK sports betting giant William Hill whose US operations division was granted its conditional license to operate in Pennsylvania this Wednesday. This is the major hurdle most casino operators will face – ensuring their sports betting technical partners are approved by the PGCB.
All that remains for Hollywood Casino is to comply with a few housekeeping operational items before opening the doors. All other PGCB sign-offs are complete. Once a date has been set for testing, Hollywood Casino will have the first legal casino sportsbook operating in Pennsylvania.
Parx Casino could follow in December
Parx Casino had initially planned for a November launch as well, but they have hit a slight snag that will slow them up just a bit. Their latest announcement was that:
“Sports betting will begin on property in the next few months (date TBD pending PGCB approval) at a temporary sportsbook in the former 360 bar space.”
Most likely this delay is due to their sports betting partner Kambi Group not yet receiving approval from the PGCB. As of right now, Kambi Group’s status in this regard is “pending”.
As stated in the release, Parx Casino will initially launch their sportsbook in a temporary facility located where the 360 Bar stood. They are building a much more ambitious $10 million expansion project they have dubbed Parx Sportsbook. They have announced a “fuzzy” opening timeline for Parx Sportsbook of sometime in 2019.
Parx Casino also announced via press release that “Parx will also extend sports betting to the Parx Turf Clubs in South Philadelphia and Valley Forge soon after Parx Sportsbook launches.”
Senior VP of Interactive Gaming and Sports, Matthew Cullen, added:
“Parx aims to offer the absolute best of all types of legalized gaming for our current and new customers. Sports betting is the next evolution of how we can achieve this goal. We will build the best sportsbook in the country — and set the industry standard for this fast growing arena.”
Also expected in December: Rivers and SugarHouse
Two casinos operated by Rush Street Gaming are also expected to open sportsbooks in December. Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia have both announced December 1, 2018 as launch dates for temporary sportsbooks, with more robust permanent facilities to follow in the spring of 2019.
Both these properties will be using Kambi Group to operate their sportsbooks, as Rush Street Gaming does with it’s mobile sports betting in New Jersey. As such, they must wait (as Parx Casino is) for Kambi Group to be approved by the PGCB to operate in the state. As of now, Kambi’s application status is listed as “pending”.
And then there was Harrah’s
The last of the five PA casino operators to be approved to take sports bets is Harrah’s in Philadelphia. While the other four casinos at least offered in their applications some semblance of a timeline to an operational sportsbook, Harrah’s omitted one entirely.
However, Harrah’s has since declared that both sports betting and their online casino operations would launch in the first quarter of 2019 – likely within 90 days from now. They have also announced that they will forego any temporary facility and instead move directly to building out a permanent structure. Since the property has an existing racebook, they might just opt to do a slight remodel rather than a more imposing and costly construction project.
Harrah’s might be lagging the field as far as timing of opening, but they will have experience on their side in the US sportsbook market. Harrah’s owner Caesars Entertainment already operates both retail and mobile sports betting in New Jersey. They also have a presence in Mississippi and of course are a longtime sports betting operator in Nevada.
When can PA expect mobile/online sports betting?
The license that allows casinos to operate land-based sportsbooks also allows for mobile sports betting. That said, Pennsylvanians can’t expect to see these products rolled out in 2018. The PGCB has decreed that PA casinos will need to demonstrate that their retail book is in order before getting green-lit for mobile betting.
Once 2019 arrives, however, operators are sure to step into this lucrative and exciting arena.
Hollywood Casino’s William Hill already operates mobile sportsbooks in New Jersey and Nevada and will surely do so in Pennsylvania as well. Parx Casino has already announced it will launch an app “complete with live in-game betting” sometime next year. The same goes for Rivers and SugarHouse operator Rush Street Gaming who said of both properties that an “online solution” will be ready in early 2019.
Harrah’s has been more reticent on the matter, emphasizing that its attention remains fully focused on opening its brick-and-mortar sportsbook, but it is highly likely that it will enter the mobile betting arena as well.