It took longer than just about anyone expected, but finally, legal online/mobile sports betting has come to Pennsylvania.
Play Sugarhouse, the online brand of the SugarHouse Casino located in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, began taking bets at about 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28 — just over a year after the Supreme Court paved the way for individual states to regulate sports betting, and some 19 months after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law in October 2017 that allowed for legal sports betting pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
Brick-and-mortar sports betting in the Keystone State kicked off last November at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, but all forms of online gaming have been slower going. As recently as April 17, PA gaming regulators were predicting that mobile sports betting would launch in early May.
Penn Bets’ sources made clear that SugarHouse had the inside track to launch first, it just had to get over the final regulatory hurdles. With Play Sugarhouse now live in PA, accessible as a mobile app or at the Web domain pa.playsugarhouse.com, those sources were proven correct.
For what is expected to be a period of three days, the site and app are in “soft play” testing mode, with the sportsbook only available at certain hours of the day while regulators ensure that geolocation, age verification, and other key safeguards are operating properly. But all bets placed and accepted during this period are official and are graded and paid out like any other real-money wager.
The soft launch hours are:
- Tuesday May 28: 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
- Wednesday May 29: 2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
- Thursday May 30: 12 p.m – 12 a.m.
- Friday June 1: TBD
Play Sugarhouse always seemed a logical first mover because, unlike some of its potential competitors, it already has a fully functional real-money online/mobile product in New Jersey. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the tech behind operating a digital sportsbook, all SugarHouse had to do was copy-paste from NJ into PA.
There are, of course, differences between the two sportsbooks. For example, we’ve known all along that New Jersey restricts betting on NJ-based college teams and on college games taking place in New Jersey; those teams/games will be available to bet on at Play Sugarhouse’s PA site.
Out of the gate, New Jersey accounts won’t work on the Pennsylvania site. However, players that already have a NJ account can use a quick registration option to seamlessly register for the PA equivalent.
The welcome bonus parallels that of the NJ sports betting site, a 100% up to $250 first-time deposit match, with a scant 1x playthrough requirement. The top-notch iRush rewards program has also been integrated.
On a cursory glance, the lines offered are the same at the PA version of Play Sugarhouse as they are in NJ. There has been concern that with Pennsylvania’s significantly higher effective tax rate on sports betting (36% of revenue, compared to 8.5% for brick-and-mortar betting and 13% for online betting in Jersey), the odds in PA would be less player-friendly. Fortunately for Pennsylvania bettors, they appear no different than they are across the state line.
SugarHouse has also had a QuickBets “bet builder” app available for several months, bringing a digital feel to betting at its B&M book.
Both live and online, SugarHouse’s sportsbook is operated by Kambi, which powers Play Sugarhouse, DraftKings Sportsbook, and 888sport in New Jersey. Kambi sets the same lines for all of these sportsbooks, though the vigs can vary as bets come in at different sites.
Rush Street Gaming owns two Pennsylvania casinos, SugarHouse and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and the latter’s mobile sportsbook is expected to be the second in the state to launch.
If New Jersey is any indication, Play Sugarhouse beating its competitors to market will provide some short-term advantage but won’t count for much in the grander scheme.
DraftKings was first to go live in NJ, and the combination of having a well-established brand name and getting the jump on the other sites made DK No. 1 in mobile betting throughout 2018. But around the time the calendars flipped over, FanDuel pulled even with its DFS rival, then surpassed DraftKings.
Being first is a help, but this limited history of legal U.S. online sports betting suggests that the best promotions, pricing, and interface — in combination, ideally, with a brand name that customers recognize — win out in the end.
FanDuel Sportsbook is coming to the Pennsylvania digital space eventually, as are Parx Casino, William Hill, and others. So Play Sugarhouse will face its share of challenges to hold onto the top spot that, by default, it claimed today.