Penn National Very Patient On Mobile Sports Betting

Penn National says there will be "innovation" in the online, in-game betting space, but it's currently waiting on the sidelines.

Penn National Gaming has had the right for months to roll out mobile sports betting in Pennsylvania as five competitors have already done, but has taken its time to do so.

Rich Criado, the company’s general manager of iCasino, gave no apology for that Thursday while hinting at Penn National’s strategy for its eventual online sportsbook tied to its Hollywood Casino property in suburban Harrisburg.

“The early adopters in this space have been pretty hardcore [bettors]. The apps out there today have reflected that,” Criado said on a mobile sports betting panel at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. “As a casual sports bettor myself, as I look at these apps I’m not necessarily drawn to them.”

Penn National was the first in the state to open a retail sportsbook last November, but it has not announced a date when it expects to have its smartphone/online sports betting ready.

Penn National aiming to be different

When it is launched, Criado suggested, it will have a unique look through development by its own software engineering team, with an appeal to a broader array of bettors.

“Our position is that you can either be first or get it right,” he said while not specifically criticizing competitors at the American Gaming Association event. “We want to create something super differentiated … and that’s why we’re a little late to the party. But once we join the party, we think you’ll see us bring more and greater experiences to people out there looking for something a little bit different.”

It’s clear that Penn National, the biggest regional gaming operator in the U.S. with 41 properties in 19 states, is willing to sacrifice some short-term revenue for what it believes ultimately serves it and its customers best. It is opting to forego the lucrative current football season.

Pennsylvania’s numbers for September covering five online and nine retail sportsbooks (the Meadows Racetrack & Casino has since become a 10th retail operator) showed that the online operations took in $158.2 mm of the $194.5 mm total handle, or 81.3%.

The bricks and mortar sportsbook at Hollywood Casino had a $3.3 mm handle last month, making $590,006 in reported revenue.

Criado acknowledged that the casino, like any business, can’t wait forever and make sure a product is perfect before bringing it out, but it is in no rush. Whatever Penn National/Hollywood launches in Pennsylvania will likely be replicated in numerous other states, as Criado said seven states in which the company has properties have authorized mobile sports wagering.

In-game betting ripe for growth

He noted during the broad panel discussion alongside two industry participants from GeoComply and Scientific Games/SG Digital that in-play betting is a new area where Penn National hopes to excel.

“This is an area ripe for tremendous innovation,” Criado said, while stressing it’s important to be user-friendly. “Whoever can nail this will earn a tremendous amount of the market. This is where a lot of wagering is going to happen. … This is a segment of the experience where there will always be something new.”

The challenge overall, he acknowledged, is “how do we still cater to the hardcore sports bettor and look to simplify the experience and create some less intimidating use and experience, so [newer] players can jump in and not feel overwhelmed by data and numbers and stats.”

As to when Pennsylvanians will get to experience that, it sounds like sometime next year – “our hope is before next football season,” according to Criado.

At that time, it will be interesting to see how different Penn National’s site actually looks from the ones already affiliated with Pennsylvania casinos from Kambi, FanDuel and FOX Bet, and with more soon to come. (Kambi is a back-end partner providing technology to Penn National, but not in the same sense that it created the sites run by the Parx, SugarHouse and Rivers casinos.)




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