Pennsylvania online sports bettors have options now.
Four weeks after SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia launched the first legal online/mobile sports betting platform in the state, Parx Casino in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem started taking online bets at 4:05 p.m. local time on Monday.
Both SugarHouse, which will soon be rebranding as Rivers Philadelphia, and Parx use sportsbook software powered by Kambi. That means both online sportsbooks offer the same betting markets, with the same spreads. The only variation is in some of the pricing, as each book can individualize on that front.
So for bettors hoping to do serious line-shopping, that will have to wait. Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh is expected to start taking bets on Tuesday, but before you presume that means more diversity of betting options, note that Rivers and SugarHouse are both owned by Rush Street Gaming and Rivers is partnered with Kambi as well. So the addition of a third site won’t add much, if any, variety to the mix.
Three days of testing
Parx (web domain: pa.parxcasino.com) is in soft-launch mode for now, meaning it’s open for limited hours, taking deposits and real-money bets, while the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board keeps a close eye to make sure everything is working and the safeguards that prevent underage or out-of-state players from betting are doing their jobs.
The planned soft-launch schedule is as follows:
- Monday, June 24: 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
- Tuesday, June 25: 2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
- Wednesday, June 26: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
If all goes well, the book will be free to launch 24-hour operations on Thursday, June 27.
Rivers is believed to be required to undergo only two days of testing, meaning it can potentially also go live 24/7 starting Thursday.
That pesky Apple situation
The new Parx betting site is available on any laptop or desktop computer, but if you’re looking to play on your phone, there are complications.
Android users are good to go. But Apple’s App Store’s recently announced policy states, “HTML5 games distributed in apps may not provide access to real money gaming, lotteries, or charitable donations, and may not support digital commerce. This functionality is only appropriate for code that’s embedded in the binary and can be reviewed by Apple.”
In short, betting apps need to be reformatted to comply, and it might be another couple of months before any of the PA sportsbooks get App Store approval. (For the existing New Jersey sportsbooks, a deadline of Sept. 3 has been set for them to revamp their apps to avoid being pulled from the App Store.)
So Parx has launched without an Apple app. The text on the betting site just prior to launch read, “It will be available on iOS devices in the near future.” As was the case with SugarHouse, Parx execs came to the conclusion that this imperfect scenario is preferable to not launching at all.
Users can still play on their iPhones and iPads, however, by navigating the betting websites on those devices. It’s an experience that’s not custom built for a phone or tablet the way an app is, but at least it’s a way for customers to get a bet down when they don’t have computer access.
Deposits and promotions
Making a deposit onto a Pennsylvania online gaming site is not as easy as it is in New Jersey.
For now, deposit options at Parx Casino include bank transfer, funding in person via cash at the casino cage, personal check or cashier’s check, Parx pre-paid card, or the PayNearMe function available at 7-Eleven, CVS, and Family Dollar stores. Unfortunately, credit cards and online services such as PayPal are not available at this time.
Parx is coming out swinging with two promotions to attract new customers.
One is an initial risk-free bet of up to $250. It’s exactly what it sounds like: If your first bet loses, you’ll get a free bet for the same amount, up to a maximum of $250.
There’s also a $10 free bet just for registering. Bettors don’t even have to make a deposit in order to take advantage of this opportunity to dip a toe.
The Parx online sportsbook just launched this afternoon so we haven’t been able to perform a complete inventory check, but it appears on first glance that it’s offering the exact same markets as Play SugarHouse.
For example, while some New Jersey books have NBA 2019-’20 season win total over/unders posted for every team, Kambi only has lines up for 25 teams, leaving out such notables as the Pelicans and Knicks. So with Kambi powering both PA books, you simply can’t make these particular bets legally on your computer in Pennsylvania.
That said, the pricing is not identical across the board.
In every single one of tonight’s MLB games, whether looking at the moneyline, run line, or total runs, Parx is charging a higher vig than SugarHouse. For example, in the Phillies-Mets game, the Phillies are -143 favorites at Parx and -139 at SugarHouse, while the Mets pay +118 at Parx and +123 at SugarHouse. (These numbers are, of course, subject to constant change.)
It’s a matter of a few pennies on the dollar, but Parx figures to face an uphill battle at the moment to attract bets from the most discerning gamblers. Maybe it will hurt the sportsbook out of the gate, maybe it won’t. But the competition is going to get serious soon, with FanDuel Sportsbook’s PA online launch believed to be just around the corner.
June handle getting a boost
Online sports betting handle in Pennsylvania in May came in at about $570k, a number that carries little weight since there was only one site and it was only active for the last four days of the month.
June’s number will be more meaningful, since Play SugarHouse will have been operational for the entire month. Still, the overall online betting handle will be difficult to analyze because it will now include two new sites taking bets for about a week.
Realistically, the industry shouldn’t expect these numbers to begin to normalize until roughly September, when football season is underway, soft-launch season has wound down, and an advertising blitz is hitting PA customers.
July 15 remains the planned date for online casino and poker to launch at some Pennsylvania sites. The addition of those verticals figures to help push the state’s sports betting market closer to maturity, and vice versa.