Pennsylvania’s college football fans have a chance Saturday to do something they’ve likely never done before: place a legal wager on their favorite team.
Many of the 40,000-plus Pitt fans expected to attend the ACC opener vs. Virginia Saturday night will clog the sportsbook counter and kiosks of the Rivers Casino, a short walk from Heinz Field. The casino makes the Panthers a 3-point home underdog, which may only drive up the betting from those clad in blue and gold.
More than twice as many fans will be at Beaver Stadium in the afternoon. While tailgating or settling into their seats, they can use their phone app from any of the four online sites currently available in Pennsylvania to bet on the Nittany Lions -39.5. Heck, they can even bet through the final whistle if they want through a variety of in-game wagers to be offered.
As for Temple fans, who get to see the Owls take on the mighty Bison of Bucknell at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon, they’ll have to take a rain check on that first bet on their favorite team. No Pennsylvania sportsbook was offering a line for the game as of Thursday morning.
But lines are available via the online sites for 55 games in all Saturday as Pennsylvanians experience their first full season of wagering on football. The first bricks-and-mortar sportsbooks opened only late last fall, primarily taking action on the NFL instead of college games, and online sports betting was unavailable until months later.
College action on the rise
Jimmy Vaccaro, the longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker who recently returned to the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa after a stint assisting with the Rivers Casino sportsbook in Pittsburgh, said the increase in college football betting is one of the industry’s most notable trends of recent decades.
It was common two or three decades ago for an NFL Sunday to carry two to three times the betting volume of the combined college games the day before, he said.
“I’d say right now it’s dead even,” Vaccaro said. “The big opening came when all these networks and cable companies started putting on all these games. Now there might be up to 27 games on television on a Saturday.”
And, naturally, when games are televised, betting interest goes up in tandem.
“There’s so much churn there,” he noted. “You might make bets on games at 9 a.m. [Las Vegas time], then come back for more games at 12, and again at 4, and then the West Coast games after that. The games are good, the games are exciting, and the TV coverage really made this thing jump.”
Nevada is the only state with a history that enables tracking of popularity of different sports for wagering, and football has long been king. The sport was responsible for $1.8 billion of the $5 billion wagered in Nevada in 2018, according to the UNLV Center for Gaming Research. Its figures do not, however, provide a distinction between pro and college football.
Historically, the Nevada casinos retain 4.95% as their win on football wagers, the Center reports. Bettors generally do a good bit better on baseball (the sportsbooks retain just 3.4%) and slightly worse on basketball (5.18 %for the casinos).
Betting options in PA
Sharp bettors in Pennsylvania may want to take advantage of the multiple online sites available. For instance, in the Pitt-Virginia matchup, BetRivers (one of the three Kambi-driven sites that typically share similar numbers) has had Pitt +3 while FanDuel listed them +2.5 with less than normal juice (-105). And if you’re a football bettor, you know there’s a huge difference between a line set at 2.5 and one set at 3.
A variety of future bets are also available on the state’s main teams.
Penn State’s over/under on wins is set at 8.5 on all of the sites, laying juice at -115 on the over. The Lions are +800 to win the Big 10 East at BetRivers, +750 at FanDuel.
Pitt’s over/under on wins is 6.5, but the over has an attractive plus price of +125 at FanDuel, while it’s even money at BetRivers. While the Panthers won the ACC Coastal Division last year, they’re listed at +450 to repeat by BetRivers and a more bettor-favorable +600 at FanDuel.
Temple’s over/under number is the same, at 6.5, but the over has a lower price of -137 at BetRivers compared to -150 at FanDuel. The Owls are listed as a 28/1 longshot to win the AAC Conference.
Photo by Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports