When Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal attempt clanked off the left post, then struck the crossbar, and ultimately landed on the turf inside the field of play, it guaranteed several things: The Chicago Bears’ season was over; the Philadelphia Eagles’ season continued; and Parx Casino would be able to take bets on an Eagles game this season.
On Tuesday, Parx, located just outside Philadelphia in Bensalem, became the fourth casino in Pennsylvania to open its sportsbook, turning the 360 Lounge into a temporary sports betting facility until its $10 million permanent book is ready.
“I’m not an Eagles fan,” said Parx Senior VP of Interactive Gaming and Sports Matt Cullen, “but I was ecstatic that they won because of what it means for business. It keeps everyone so much more engaged, at least for one more week.”
Third come, first served
Steve Schwarz, a Bensalem local sporting a “Super Bowl Champions” Eagles cap, was third in line to place bets when the floodgates opened at 2 p.m. sharp, and he became the answer to a trivia question when he got his bet down before anybody else.
“I was third in line, but I knew exactly what I bet I wanted to make,” Schwarz said. That bet was $50 on Sunday’s Eagles-Saints playoff game going over 50.5 points, and because Schwarz wasted no time in telling the ticket taker exactly what he wanted, he received the first sports betting ticket issued by Parx.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Schwarz said. “And I’m looking forward to the permanent sportsbook. I came out today because I wanted to see what it was like the first day.”
Schwarz said once online betting goes live in the state, he expects that he’ll place most of his bets that way “for the convenience,” but, he added, “I’ll also be here at the casino pretty often.”
Betting the new-fashioned way
Schwarz was one of the few bettors heading to the human-patrolled windows; by what looked to be about a 10-1 ratio, the Kambi-powered electronic kiosks were the more popular choice of the first wave of customers.
There are 12 of those kiosks in the temporary sportsbook and 14 more spread around the casino floor, to go along with eight ticket windows in the book.
“A lot of customers seem to gravitate toward the kiosks,” Cullen said, “because they’re the first thing you see when you come in. They take a look out of curiosity — or some customers have used them before and are comfortable placing bets with them.”
The turnout was modest on this opening day of betting, but that was by design. Regulators require a testing period, a “soft launch” of sorts, before the grand opening of the sportsbook, which is coming this Thursday at 1 p.m., and Parx has been steering its customers and most of the press toward coming for that official event rather than Tuesday’s festivities.
Thursday will feature a ribbon cutting with four local politicians, plus Parx CEO Anthony Ricci and Chairman Bob Green.
Skip the lines
Parx is trying an intriguing technological innovation right out of the gate: a “mobile bet slip builder.”
Even though online betting isn’t available in Pennsylvania yet, users can program their bets using the app, enabling them to bypass lines in person and essentially just scan their digital bet slip.
There are some times of day when this feature will be immaterial, but in the final minutes before a game starts, it’s a great way to avoid waiting in a long line and ensure your bet gets placed in time. In essence, it’s the sportsbook equivalent of a FastPass at Disney World.
Stand and deliver
Parx clearly takes its tech seriously and has an eye on the future. But in the immediate present, there is one notable shortcoming: a lack of comfortable seating in the temporary sportsbook.
For now, in this makeshift space, the only seating is at the bar.
“I know it’s only a temporary sportsbook,” said patron Tom Woollam of nearby Doylestown, “but it is a problem. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, I want to be able to sit down and watch the games.”
Woollam is primarily a hockey bettor, and he was at Parx with friend Steve Feevish of Warminster, a football bettor. Both have been to SugarHouse Casino’s sportsbook already, where Feevish placed a winning bet on the Indianapolis Colts last week, and when he spoke to Penn Bets, he was preparing to put more money on the Colts against the Kansas City Chiefs at Parx, about $25 or so on both the moneyline and the spread.
“I love the Colts in this game,” Feevish said. (Spoken like a true playoff-Andy-Reid skeptic.)
Striving to be best, not first
The permanent book, which Cullen says he expect to open around May or June, will more than make up for any seating issues at the temp book. But for now, he and his team are just enjoying getting sports betting off the ground after months of planning and prepping.
“We’re excited. It took a lot of work to get to this point,” Cullen said.
We asked if there was any frustration that they didn’t open in 2018 and weren’t able to be the first Philly-area casino to offer sports betting. “No, I wouldn’t say there was any frustration,” Cullen responded. “The main thing for us was doing it right. We could have opened before Christmas, but we wanted to make sure we weren’t rushing it, we were doing it properly.
“Now we’re open, we’re getting ready for Thursday’s grand opening, and then, with the NFL playoffs, we’re bracing for the weekend, big time.”