As we near the four-week mark since Pennsylvania’s first legal sportsbook opened, it is, somewhat surprisingly, all quiet on the PA sports betting front.
Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course began its soft launch on November 15 and opened officially two days later, and most assumed it would have company within a week or two.
Four other casinos have received approval of their sports betting petitions from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board: Parx (which received approval at the same time as Penn National), Harrah’s, Rivers, and SugarHouse.
Parx broke ground on its temporary sportsbook in October, at which time Senior Vice President of Sports and Interactive Matt Cullen told Penn Bets, “We don’t know the exact start date, we’re hoping it’s going to be the end of November, maybe the beginning of December.”
SugarHouse, meanwhile, has been advertising the coming sports vertical on its website for weeks.
But as of December 12, Hollywood Casino at Penn National remains the only PA property taking bets.
Trust the process
PGCB Director of Communications Doug Harbach dismisses the notion that there’s a “hold up” or that anything is moving behind schedule, essentially reminding us that opening a sportsbook is not a matter of clicking your heels and the betting begins.
“The Gaming Board is working toward getting the approved facilities prepared for test periods in which they can welcome the public,” Harbach told Penn Bets on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of boxes to check off. You’ve got systems, you’ve got personnel that need to be trained. A lot of things have to be put in place before they can start taking any of the wagers.
“And when we do that, as we did with Penn National, there will be a couple days that, while there will be live bets, they’ll be considered test periods, with our staff involved and making sure that the various aspects of the process are working correctly.”
So why did Penn National get up and running so much sooner than its counterparts elsewhere in the state?
“They were ready,” Harbach said. “They got to a point where they were ready for the test periods and we moved forward with it. We would have done the same soon thereafter with other facilities if they would have been ready, but they just weren’t quite to that point yet.”
Christmas coming early for sports bettors
Maybe the wait between Pennsylvania’s first sportsbook and its second has been longer than expected, but that wait should soon be over.
“I would say that an announcement on the test periods would be made very soon for one, possibly two, of the facilities,” Harbach said, “and that those test periods would certainly take place prior to the Christmas holiday.”
Harbach was not at liberty to reveal which two casinos are close, but of course, there are only four contenders in the mix. (Valley Forge, Mt. Airy, and Live! Casino have also applied for sports betting permits in recent weeks.)
The educated guess here is that Parx Casino, in Bensalem, is the one that’s closest to announcing its test period. We should know soon.
Perhaps more important than the launch of brick-and-mortar sportsbooks — at least in terms of handle and revenue long-term — is the debut of online/mobile sports betting. The PGCB hasn’t zeroed in too precise a time frame yet, but Harbach said of the online sportsbooks, “I would think some of them would be prepared in the first quarter of 2019, similar to their endeavors to get some of the casino games up on interactive gaming.”
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