This was not the start that 76ers fans were hoping for.
With a chance to exact a little revenge on the Boston Celtics for eliminating them from the postseason in the spring, Philadelphia’s talented young team was flat on Tuesday night in the NBA season opener, shooting just 19.2% on three-pointers, committing 16 turnovers, and getting out-rebounded 55-47, while 20-year-old point guard Markelle Fultz looked completely out of his element against elite professional opposition.
The good news: It was one game. There are 81 more to come. Cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to dominate many of them.
And for probably the final 60 or 65 of those, Philly fans will have the opportunity to bet on them at Pennsylvania casinos.
One ugly loss to a stacked Celtics team aside, stepping back and looking at the big picture, the Philadelphia sports scene has rarely been so encouraging. This is a tortured sports city that waited nearly 100 years for its Phillies to win a championship, went 100 seasons between titles in any sport from 1983-2008, and had to wait until the 52nd Super Bowl to lift a Lombardi.
But now, in the afterglow of the Eagles’ 41-33 win over the Patriots eight months ago, combined with the Sixers’ “process” resulting in a 52-win season last year and the fifth-shortest NBA title odds right now, Philly fans have reason to believe. And as soon as next month, they might have reason to bet, legally, in their home state, followed a couple of months later by mobile betting apps letting them get behind their Sixers, their Eagles, and, if their fanhood is a little less fairweather, their mediocre Flyers, without leaving home.
Sports betting is coming to Pennsylvania. The question is, will increased handle come with it because the local teams have everyone’s attention?
The Jersey test case
In New Jersey, where sports betting has been up and running since June, the early indications are that the local teams do generate more betting interest — though whether they’re contenders or not might be irrelevant.
At DraftKings Sportsbook, the first mobile site to launch in NJ, two of the three most bet-on games have featured local teams, one of those games hitting the ideal double dip of a New York club taking on a Philly squad:
Most heavily-bet games (all sports) @DKSportsbook to this point:
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) October 16, 2018
FanDuel Group Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessey told Penn Bets that the Eagles-Giants Thursday night game one week ago was the most popular single event, by handle, that FanDuel Sportsbook has booked yet. For what it’s worth, that matched a 2-3 team against a 1-4 team, suggesting that being hot might not matter for the local teams (although the defending champ Eagles, now 3-3, are still considered the favorite to win the NFC East despite their slow start).
You might think FanDuel, which operates both a mobile app and the brick-and-mortar sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack — right in the heart of Giants/Jets/Yankees/Mets country — would be seeing different levels of action on the New York teams live vs. online. But “it’s a little too early to tell with comparisons to retail and online,” Hennessey said. “We see an incremental 25% home-team favoritism toward the Yankees and Giants and slightly less on the Jets and Eagles at retail.”
It should be noted that FanDuel has skewed its statistics by offering promotions that highlight the New York or Philadelphia teams, such as its recent “Local Locks” offer to get a refund if your bet on the Knicks or Nets money lines for their respective season openers lost. (As it turned out, Knicks bettors won, while Nets backers got bailed out by the promotion.)
Play Sugarhouse, a betting app that represents an interesting geographical straddle because it’s a Philadelphia brand available throughout New Jersey, doesn’t have hard data to share yet, but Rush Street Interactive COO Mattias Stetz told Penn Bets, “It is normal to see more action on local teams, and we’re seeing that. Handle on games involving local teams is higher and we see more bets on the local teams, but it varies from game to game obviously.”
As for the coming action across the border in Pennsylvania, Stetz points out that, even though the casino concentration is highest in the southeast corner of the state, there’s more to PA than just the Philly teams.
“We know that the Pennsylvania fans are deeply passionate about their teams, not only in Philly, but also in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates,” Stetz said.
The Pirates, like the Phillies, just wrapped up a .500-ish season, but the Penguins are a perennial NHL powerhouse and the Steelers are aiming for a fifth straight trip to the postseason.
Eagles fans in punt formation?
All across the state, sports betting enthusiasts are counting down the days to when they won’t have to drive to New Jersey, Delaware, or West Virginia to place a legal bet. Veteran Philadelphia sports writer and 94 WIP radio host Glen Macnow is as dialed in as anyone to the mindset of the Philly sports fan, and he has sensed some frustration the last few months over neighboring states offering what Pennsylvania hasn’t. But that’s about to ease up.
“I think if Philadelphia teams are doing well, that will help drive people to the places where they can bet on them,” says Macnow, who had the honor of being the first person to place a legal sports bet at Delaware Park on June 5. “People here love their teams and love to support them, and if they can find a way to make money off of their favorite teams, they’re going to do it.”
Betting volume on the Eagles, however, will likely vary depending on whether or not they’re rounding into form in November and December.
“If they’re cruising and people foresee another Super Bowl,” Macnow says, “then there will be a line four blocks long at the casinos and the racetracks. If they are just scuffling around .500, people will do it based on what they think that week. Everyone here loves to root for the Eagles, but fans here, certainly when it comes to spending their own money, are not going to be delusional.”
Weekend wagering warriors
Five PA venues have already applied for sports betting licenses despite prohibitive tax rates: Harrah’s Philadelphia, Hollywood Casino, SugarHouse Casino, Rivers Casino, and Parx Casino, which has indicated it will have both a land-based and an online sportsbook. Will hanging out all day at the book become the same sort of ideal football-season weekend activity that it’s long been in Las Vegas and is starting to develop into in Jersey?
Macnow thinks on Sundays when the Eagles aren’t playing, when fans don’t have their favorite team to focus on, the sportsbooks rate to be especially crowded, and books could thrive on college football Saturdays as well. He goes to Delaware Park every Saturday for a remote broadcast of his radio show, and he’s seen the college football betting impact firsthand.
“I see a lot more foot traffic there on a Saturday morning now,” Macnow says. “I don’t think people in Pennsylvania really realize yet that it’s this close. When they do, I think they’ll get excited and go to the casinos.”
On November 25, the Eagles host the Giants at 1:00 p.m, and the 76ers play in Brooklyn at 6:00 p.m. Three days after Thanksgiving, will bettors be sick of family time and ready to bust out and spend a day with their buddies at the sportsbook?
Some fans will be at Lincoln Financial Field, of course. And there’s no guarantee that sports betting will have kicked off yet, plus it’s possible the Eagles will be out of contention and the Sixers won’t be clicking.
All three of those possibilities seem like plus-money underdog propositions, though. Chances are that Philly fans will have cause for optimism about their teams (especially against weak rival opposition) and will have a place, in-state, to wager on them.
The fun is mere weeks away in Pennsylvania. Other than being ready to take in time for the start of the NFL season — which was never going to happen in PA — the sportsbooks couldn’t have asked for better timing.