Rivers Online Sports Betting Preview

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Rivers Casino and its sister SugarHouse have both launched retail sportsbooks, with Rivers becoming the only active location in the western half of the state. This advantage may provide a major boost when its online sportsbook soon launches.

On Pittsburgh’s North Shore, overlooking the Ohio River, Rivers Casino is Western Pennsylvania’s premier gambling destination. While online gaming has not yet launched in the state, River’s parent company Rush Street is already active in neighboring New Jersey, where it offers online casino games and sports betting via the SugarHouse brand.

In September, Rivers submitted an application for a sports wagering license for $10 million. A month later, Rivers execs presented a slideshow of its sportsbook plans to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) and got approved for a license. The physical sports wagering opened on December 13.

Overview 
Online launch Expected early 2019
Online partnersRush Street/Kambi
LicenseApproved Oct. 2018
Land-based bookLaunched Dec 13, 2018

Welcome bonus at Rivers online sportsbook

Most online sportsbooks offer some sort of welcome bonus which can soften or even eliminate the house edge for a time. While these offers can come in a variety of forms, we believe that Rivers will mimic whichever offer Play SugarHouse NJ finds to be the most popular.

Currently, new players there enjoy a 100% deposit match bonus of up to $250. This means that if you deposit, say, $100, your $100 would appear in your account along with an additional $100 in bonus funds. To clear the bonus funds for cashout, players must wager the amount of the bonus just one time. Once completed, the money is free to withdraw.

What advantages will Rivers have in the sports betting market?

  • Early market domination: Rivers and Sugarhouse launched their real-world operations a month after Penn National, beating the entire rest of the state.
  • Large player database: Rivers has a virtual monopoly on the Western PA gambling market and will be able to advertise its new offering to a huge number of current and former customers. The other two current sports betting facilities are in the Phildelphia area in the opposite edge of the state.
  • Location, location, location: If Rivers substantial customer database weren’t already enough, its located in one of the premier markets for professional sports. The NFL Steelers, NHL Penguins, and MLB Pirates all call Pittsburgh home. The opening of a sportsbook a stone’s throw from Heinz field should major prove a driver of rabid sports fans.
  • Battle-tested software: Rivers will utilize the same software platform that is already in use by Play SugarHouse in New Jersey. The software, which was built in-house with services provided by Kambi, has been deployed in the Garden State since August 2018 and is robust, polished and very capable. With its platform ready to go, getting up and running will be easy for the casino and will give it a big head start.
  • Promotional marketing: If there’s one thing that Rush Street Interactive brands are known for, it’s top-tier loyalty programs and best-in-class promotions. Rivers online sportsbook will likely feature tons of offers for players to sink their teeth into, including a sizeable (and easy to clear) welcome bonus, frequent odds boosts, and kickbacks on regular play.

Rivers’ land-based sportsbook

Rivers officials had given us a sneak peek of what the casino’s brick-and-mortar sportsbook would look like during a recent PGCB presentation.

Originally there was hope to open by December 1 in order to take advantage of what’s left of NFL season, but the temporary sportsbook still managed to launch less than two weeks late on the 13th (almost in lockstep with the debut of the book at its sister PA casino, SugarHouse).

Rivers’ offering is situated on the south gaming floor, near the high limit area and occupy the space of an existing unutilized cage. The book spans 3,000 square feet, boasts a luxury sports lounge design and has available seating for nearly 100 people.

Patrons can enjoy games on a large 14′ x 7′ LED video wall or watch their favorite events on a bank of 15 flats screen TVs. To place their bets, players have access to several cashier windows and self-service wagering kiosks.

Rivers’ permanent sportsbook is slated to open in the spring of 2019, and will be centered on the main gaming floor where the Levels Lounge is currently located.

Rivers temporary sportsbook
Rivers temporary sportsbook

Online sports betting at Rivers Casino

Sportsbook features preview

Rivers execs have stated the casino’s online sports betting offering will go live sometime in “early 2019.” It was not specified if mobile would be included in that timeframe or just the desktop website. Our guess is it will both launch in tandem, as it did for Play SugarHouse in New Jersey.

Rivers will be much better prepared than any of its PA competitors, due its parent company’s experience with iGaming in New Jersey.

As in the Garden State, Rivers will use its home-grown Rush Street Interactive platform as the backbone for its online book. It has also partnered with sports betting software provider Kambi, which will round out the product with the following:

  • Risk monitoring, risk management, and fraud prevention
  • Pricing, trading and event settlement
  • Seamless wallet integration with the RSI platform

The sportsbook at Play SugarHouse in New Jersey is deeply integrated with that licensee’s online casino, giving players the ability to easily switch between verticals using the same wallet.

While SugarHouse will certainly configure its product in the same way in PA, Rivers sports bettors will not enjoy the same options. SugarHouse has purchased licenses to offer online poker, slots and table games. Rivers, on the other hand, originally purchased the same licenses, but later had a change of heart and decided to relinquish them.

Banking options

We can get a pretty clear picture of what banking methods will be available to Rivers gamblers by taking a look at what’s offered over at Play SugarHouse NJ. Here are some of the various ways players will likely be able to make deposits and withdrawals:

  • Visa/MasterCard
  • Rivers Prepaid Card
  • ACH (eCheck)
  • Neteller
  • Online Bill Pay
  • PayNearMe
  • Cash at the Rivers cage
  • Bank wire transfer
  • PayPal

Game selection

Rivers laid out in its presentation to the PGCB some of the game types which will be available to customers. Those include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Football (NFL, NCAA, and Canadian Football League)
  • MLB
  • NHL
  • NBA
  • NCAA
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Boxing
  • UFC
  • Rugby
  • Nascar
  • MLS
  • Premier League
  • Various other soccer leagues

It also mentions some of the betting types players will be able to make. Rivers notes that this list could expand:

  • Straight bets
  • Round-robin
  • Parlays
  • Fixed odds
  • Point spread
  • Run lines
  • Moneyline
  • Prop bets
  • In-play betting

Types of bets

We can expect the same options as the SugarHouse sites:

  • Standard point spread, Over/Under, and Moneyline bets
  • Jackpot Parlays
  • Unique In-play wagers, such as on the success of a particular player or the outcome of a current drive.
  • Cash out early options
  • NFL and NBA Teaser+ bets

Promotions

In addition to welcome bonuses, Rivers will likely offer regular or seasonal promotions.

As an example, Play SugarHouse NJ offers upwards of $500 in rewards to patrons who sign up at the physical SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. Other sites have taken to offering promos which boost odds or give money back on losses.

Also, let’s not forget about Play SugarHouse’s premier loyalty program, iRush Rewards, which has become a favorite amongst Garden State gamblers. The popular program will likely be integrated into Rivers online sportsbook as well, although there looks to be no chance to earn points playing online casino games at Rivers, as it does not have a license to offer those verticals.

Rush Street might somewhat solve this by giving players the chance to accrue points for their play at the Play SugarHouse PA online casino.

iRush rewards, however, which typically involves scratch cards, bonus wheel spins, and bingo, might need to be revised at Rivers due to the casino’s lack of an online gambling permit.

What was Rivers’ path to sports betting?

Once Play SugarHouse NJ launched its online casino in 2016, then followed up by opening a sportsbook earlier this year, it was abundantly clear that its sister site, Rivers, would follow suit.

At first, Rivers was gung ho on the online gambling industry, shelling out $10 million for a license to offer online poker, slots and table games.

It later turned its attention to sports betting, snapping up an equally expensive license for the vertical in September.

However, Rivers eventually had a change of heart in regards to online casino, likely after determining it could save money by simply promoting the iGaming offering over at SugarHouse. It subsequently relinquished its casino licenses back into the pool.

But it won’t do the same with its sports betting permit, especially considering the fact that its home city of Pittsburgh plays host to teams in three major sports leagues. The casino is hard at work building a permanent sportsbook inside its facility and will then concentrate on getting its online service and mobile app ready for market.

Rivers and SugarHouse both received their interim sports wagering licenses during a PGCB meeting on October 31, 2018 and had their approved temporary brick-and-mortar betting facilities open in less than two months.

Rivers Casino market outlook

With its prime position in sports-obsessed Pittsburgh, and its dominance in that market, the future for Rivers’ sportsbook looks positive. However, it would be much brighter were it not for the crushing 36% effective tax on sports gross gaming revenue which the casino will have to overcome.

Together with the $10 million startup fee, the onerous rate could make sports betting an unprofitable vertical for some casinos, turning it into more of a loss leader than a profitable addition.

This could be an issue for Rivers, which has given up its online casino licenses, and won’t be able to take full advantage of the cross-promotional opportunities. Instead, Rivers might be planning to plug this hole by advertising the online casino at SugarHouse.

Either way, Rivers is clearly taking sports betting very seriously, and will no doubt match its already thriving live sportsbook by building a high quality online one. The projections are good, no matter how much of its earnings it has to give back to the state.

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Bill Grinstead

Bill has over a decade of experience working in diverse aspects of the online gambling space. He is currently focused on legal, US online gaming, which he has reported on since the industry first became regulated in the country.

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