Sports betting legalization outside Nevada was still a few months away when the Philadelphia Eagles went on their 2018 Super Bowl run, but the players on that team were very much aware of the betting lines in their games. They embraced their underdog status — despite having the best record in the NFC, they were getting points at home against both Atlanta and Minnesota and then in the Super Bowl against New England — and many players called attention to it by wearing dog masks when they didn’t have their helmets on.
“We were underdogs all throughout the playoffs,” since-retired tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. “We knew that, and that seemed to fuel us.”
Celek was the guest of honor at the opening of the FanDuel Sportsbook at Valley Forge Casino Resort, and the ex-Eagle wore his bulky championship ring on his left index finger as he placed the first bet following the noon Wednesday ribbon cutting.
The 11-year NFL veteran has an estimated net worth of $6 mm, and when it comes to sports betting, he is practicing highly conservative bankroll management. Celek put $20 on new Phillies slugger Bryce Harper to hit over 33½ home runs this upcoming season — apparently a popular bet, because the over came with a -120 price on Wednesday (the under was even money).
“It’s going to take a long time for this bet to come to fruition, but Bryce is going to do it for me,” Celek said.
Next, somebody should set odds on whether Celek will swing by Valley Forge again in the fall to collect his $36.67 if the bet wins.
Philly sportsbook frenzy
Valley Forge Casino, located about 25 miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, becomes one of six brick-and-mortar locations in the area to offer sports betting. SugarHouse Casino led the way last December, followed by Parx Casino, Harrah’s Philadelphia, and the South Philadelphia Turf Club in January. The Valley Forge Turf Club in Oaks, operated by Parx parent company Greenwood Gaming, opened its sportsbook almost simultaneously to its six-miles-away neighbor Valley Forge Casino this week.
The novelty of a Philly sportsbook opening has somewhat worn off by now. But this one stood out, for two reasons. First off, bringing in Celek followed the initial New Jersey tradition of having a legit local sports celebrity place the first bet, something the other Pennsylvania books haven’t mirrored. And second, FanDuel planting its flag in the state is a big deal.
FanDuel Sportsbook has emerged as the betting handle and revenue leader in New Jersey, through a combination of its popular mobile app and its land-based hub at the Meadowlands Racetrack. Even in a down month for sports betting that saw many books lose money because of a bettor-friendly Super Bowl result, the Meadowlands’ live and online properties produced more than $8 mm in revenue in February, nearly two-thirds of the total haul in the state.
With rival DraftKings seemingly headed toward not having a presence in PA, FanDuel’s arrival is all the more significant. FanDuel Vice President of Retail Keith Wall said at the Valley Forge opening that FD hopes to be taking bets online by the summer, and conventional wisdom has the mobile FanDuel Sportsbook emerging as the leader in the state once the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gives the go-ahead.
“We just have to wait and see about the competition,” Wall said of the prospect of a market without DraftKings. “We’ll have competition from some strong local brands — Parx, etc. We feel we have the market-leading product, and we’re going to vie for that top spot in Pennsylvania.”
Wall said the company’s experience in New Jersey has given them an opportunity to work out kinks and get to know the East Coast sports betting customers, and now the focus shifts to brand awareness in the Keystone State.
“Philadelphia, and all of Pennsylvania, is known for passionate, knowledgeable sports fans,” Wall said. “People in Pennsylvania already know the FanDuel brand through daily fantasy sports, but they don’t know the sports betting brand as well. So we’ve been looking forward to partnering with Boyd Gaming at Valley Forge Casino and launching the brand here.”
PA vs. NJ
The opening at Valley Forge was well attended, with a healthy crowd gathering before the ribbon cutting (including at least one serious bettor scanning the odds on his iPad before the betting commenced).
The sportsbook is relatively small, at about 1,800 square feet, compared to about 15,000 at the Meadowlands location. It features seven teller windows, 29 video displays (TV and odds screens), and seating for about 30 customers. It’s a cozy, clean, aesthetically pleasing space, and it’s clear that it’s not meant to compare to the flagship sportsbook in North Jersey in terms of attracting a crowd on game days.
But Valley Forge and FanDuel still have high expectations.
“We are excited to partner with FanDuel Group and bring a sports betting experience to our guests,” Valley Forge Casino Resort General Manager Dave Zerfing said. “Located next to our gaming floor, which has recently been expanded with 250 new slot machines, we take pride in continuing to enhance our amenities and offerings here at Valley Forge Casino Resort.”
“The casino here does a really good job pulling traffic in. I’ve found that it’s crowded here on a random Tuesday afternoon. So the traffic will come in naturally,” said FanDuel Senior Director of Retail Operations Jeff Lowich. “But one thing here is that there’s going to be regional competition. The Meadowlands Sportsbook is almost by itself. It’s close to New York City, and there are no other books nearby. Here, there’s a lot more competition in a small area.
“But I think it’s going to do really well. It’s just difficult for any sportsbook to compare with the location at the Meadowlands.”
The subtext is that this is partially a means to an end for FanDuel: a modest brick-and-mortar book in Pennsylvania that represents the brand well, intended to open the door for the real moneymaker, online betting.
Had Paul Revere spent the long winter of 1777-’78 at Valley Forge, a “one if by land, two if by web” quip might work well here. All the same, online is where the real battle for supremacy in Pennsylvania sports betting will be fought.
Madness is coming, optimism abounds
The timing of the Valley Forge opening is perfect, in that March Madness is a week away — Wall said opening in time for the NCAA tournament was part of FanDuel’s ambition — and the Philly sports scene is buzzing with excitement.
Celek’s bet on Harper is emblematic of that. The tight end had a lot of options for how to spend his $20:
I've been invited to place the first bet at the brand new @FDsportsbook at @VFcasinoresort on wed march 13 at 12 noon.. what should my first wager be ? A. Eagles to win the Super Bowl B. Flyers to win the cup. C. Sixers to win the ship. D. Bryce Harper over 33.5 hrs
— Brent Celek (@BrentCelek) March 10, 2019
Penn Bets asked Celek if he has any moral objections to betting on the Eagles or the NFL, as a futures bet on the Birds to win the next Super Bowl at 16/1 would have seemed the most logical choice for him. He said under the right circumstances, he’d be fine with betting on his former team.
“If I’m not working with the organization, I might,” Celek said. “If I am working for them, I won’t be doing that.”
Another reporter asked Celek if he’d ever made a sports bet prior the Harper homer wager. “No,” the newbie admitted. “But I can start now.”
The hours of the FanDuel Sportsbook at Valley Forge Casino Resort are as follows:
- Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.
- Friday: 10 a.m. – 2 a.m.
- Saturday: 7 a.m. – 2 a.m.
- Sunday: 8 a.m. – 1 a.m.