Nearly four months have passed since PA regulators began accepting sports betting licensing applications from state casinos, yet only two properties have so far taken the plunge.
While many of PA’s slots licensees would like nothing more than to open their own live and online sportsbooks, PA has put a damper on the process by charging an outlandish $10 million licensing fee and applying an oppressive 36% tax on gross gaming revenue.
The fee structure has made many casinos rethink their sports betting plans, and question if the low-margin vertical can even be profitable in such an environment.
Even so, it’s highly likely that many, if not the majority of PA casinos will eventually pony up the cash and claim their own sports betting license.
Here’s how we think the situation might play out, and which casinos might be the next to get into the game.
Confirmed: Penn National and Parx
After months of silence, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) announced that Penn National, proud owner of a $10 million online gambling license and two satellite casinos, was the first to submit a sports betting application.
Penn was originally against expanded gambling, but when its opposition efforts fell flat, decided to go all-in to protect its flagship Hollywood Casino property.
The gambling conglomerate recently revealed that it would use gaming developer IGT’s software to power its online casino. It’s at least plausible that Penn will leverage IGT for its sports betting platform as well. In New Jersey, the software company has already integrated its technology into the FanDuel and playMGM online/mobile sportsbooks, proving its ability to operate with the big dogs in the space.
Parx Casino was the second casino to purchase a sports betting license, which was announced by regulators last month. Parx has teamed up with software developer GAN, which will power both its online casino and sportsbook.
While several PA gaming operators have publicly grumbled about the state’s crushing fees and tax structure, it’s likely that they will eventually give in and shell out the cash. There are seven casinos we believe fall into this category.
Presque Isle Downs
Presque Isle Downs is the likeliest of all casinos to snap up a sports betting license, due to the simple fact that its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), announced its intentions to do so back in May. Just a few days after the Supreme Court overturned the law banning sports betting outside of Nevada, CDI put out a press release stating that it would offer sports betting in Pennsylvania through the property and utilize a platform provided by SBTech.
That said, in a recent PGCB meeting, Churchill complained to regulators about the state’s onerous tax rate, and declared that it would need more time to assess the situation. Even so, it’s hard to imagine that Presque Isle will go back on its promise.
Harrah’s Philadelphia, owned by gaming behemoth Caesars, is another likely candidate to open its own sportsbook. Caesars is already heavily involved in sports betting in Nevada, and recently opened two brick-and-mortar sportsbooks (one inside Harrah’s NJ) in New Jersey, along with a self-branded online sports betting skin. The company’s extensive experience in U.S. sports betting leads us to believe that purchasing a license for its PA property would be a no-brainer.
Mount Airy Casino Resort
Mount Airy recently scored a major coup when it linked up with PokerStars to offer online poker and casino when PA online gambling goes live sometime in the near future. What’s more, the casino has also inked a deal with 888, which will presumably open up its own branded online casino skin and/or poker site under the property’s license.
Both 888 and PokerStars have their own sportsbook products. 888 launched its 888 Sport NJ skin in September, and PokerStars’ offering, BetStars, has recently debuted under the Resorts banner.
Already partnered with two companies with their own branded NJ sportsbooks, it would make sense that Mount Airy would join the fray in PA as well, presumably with BetStars as its brand (PA sports betting operators are limited to one online skin).
SugarHouse and Rivers
SugarHouse and Rivers casinos are both owned by Rush Street Interactive, which operates a successful online casino in New Jersey, and recently launched its own sportsbook there as well. Both the online casino and sportsbook platform were created in-house by Rush Street’s interactive arm, and will very likely be integrated into SugarHouse and Rivers’ online casinos in PA as well.
SugarHouse is also associated with Kambi, a gaming tech company that helped develop its NJ online sportsbook.
Live! Hotel & Casino
Live! is a casino complex slated to be built in close proximity to the state’s sports epicenter in Philadelphia, which includes Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park and the Wells Fargo Center.
Live! is a perfect candidate to offer sports betting, simply due to the fact that it will be trafficked by throngs of sports fanatics passing through on their way to any one of the many games which will play out close by.
The casino, which won’t be opened until at least 2020, has already purchased an online gambling license. We think that it’s only a matter of time before it drops the required $10 million for a sportsbook permit as well.
Valley Forge is one of two casinos classified as a Category 3 Resort venue. The property has already benefited from last year’s expanded gambling law, which allows it to open up its casino floor to the general public, not just hotel guests.
We believe that Valley Forge is very likely to delve into sports betting, as it was recently acquired by Boyd Gaming, which has laid plans to dominate online casino/sports wagering in the U.S. In July, Boyd announced a landmark partnership deal with MGM, which would allow both companies to quickly expand into states which legalize sports betting.
Around the same time, MGM also inked a deal with GVC, which was already slated to provide the software platform for Valley Forge’s online casino. Under the deal, MGM and GVC will establish a 50-50 joint venture “to create world-class sports betting and online gaming platforms in the United States.”
Mohegan Sun Pocono
Mohegan Sun had the opportunity to buy a license to offer online slots, table games and poker at the discounted price of $10 million, but failed to do so during the allotted timeframe. However, it later purchased all three iGaming licenses for the inflated price of $12 million, or $4 million each.
The casino hasn’t yet filed for a sports betting license, but company executives have made statements which lead us to believe it might participate in the industry.
In a release, Mohegan officials said that they were looking forward to working with government officials to offer sports betting. They continued: “We have long felt that Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment was in a great position to offer this type of gaming at our properties.”
Sands was recently pried from the hands of billionaire Sheldon Adelson and sold to Wind Creek Hospitality, the gaming arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. While the new owners have already purchased an online casino license – something that would’ve never happened under Adelson – they haven’t confirmed if they will be involved in sports betting in the state.
Wind Creek, however did release a statement immediately following the May PASPA Supreme Court ruling which hinted at some interest:
“Further communications from Wind Creek Hospitality about this transaction will be limited until it has had the opportunity to meet with the PGCB, other regulatory agencies, its new Bethlehem team members, and community leaders and future partners.”
The Meadows, along with Lady Luck Nemacolin, are the only two casinos not to purchase some category of online gaming license. Does that mean that The Meadows will eschew sports betting as well? We’re not so sure. The property’s parent company Pinnacle was recently acquired by Penn National, which has already dropped and eye-popping $77,600,000 on various expanded gambling licenses in the state. Being one of the two casinos to have already purchased a sports betting license, it’s possible that it would do the same for The Meadows as well.
Lady Luck Nemacolin
Lady Luck Casino, located at Nemacolin Resort, is by far the lowest-earning gambling property in PA. The facility hasn’t felt inclined to take advantage of any of the new gambling opportunities, declining to buy a license which would allow non-guests to patronize the casino, while also opting out of online gambling.
However, there is a possibility that it might get involved in sports betting, due to the fact that it was recently acquired by Churchill Downs, which is very keen on the vertical. Even so, the property brings in such paltry revenue that sports betting may not make sense with the existing tax structure.
Regulators probably aren’t sweating it
While only two casinos have yet to plunk down the $10 million for sports betting licenses, we believe that several others will eventually, and begrudgingly, follow suit. In a sports-obsessed state like Pennsylvania, passing up the opportunity to offer sports wagering might be a bad bet at any cost.