Located on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, overlooking the Ohio River, Rivers Casino is Western Pennsylvania’s premier gambling destination.
Rivers is operated by Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which also owns SugarHouse Casino, situated 300 miles to the east in Philadelphia.
While online gambling sites and sportsbooks have not yet launched in the Keystone State, Rush Street is already involved in both in neighboring New Jersey. There, the company is licensed to offer online casino games via Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget and sports betting through the Monmouth Park racetrack.
That said, there was never much doubt that Rivers and SugarHouse would open up its own physical and online sportsbooks right here in its home territory.
In September, Rivers made it official by submitting an application for a sports wagering license, which will run the casino a hefty $10 million.
A month later, Rivers execs appeared before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), where it presented a slideshow of its sportsbook plans and were subsequently approved to offer the vertical by the committee.
What follows is everything we know about Rivers land-based and online sportsbooks so far.
What advantages will Rivers have in the sportsbook market?
- 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.
- 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 gave us a sneak peek of what the casino’s brick-and-mortar sportsbook would look like during a recent PGCB presentation.
To take advantage of what’s left of NFL season, the casino plans to open a temporary sportsbook on December 1. This launch will happen in tandem with the debut of the book at its sister PA casino, SugarHouse.
Rivers’ offering will be situated on the south gaming floor, near the high limit area and occupy the space of an existing unutilized cage. The book will span 3,000 square feet, boast a luxury sports lounge design and have 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 will 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.
Online sports betting at Rivers Casino
Rivers’ temporary land-based sportsbook will launch first, followed by the permanent facility. Execs have stated the casino’s online sports betting offering will go live sometime in “early 2019.” They didn’t specify if mobile would be included in that timeframe, or just the desktop website. Our guess is that they will both launch in tandem, as they did 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.
Online sportsbook preview
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:
- Rivers Prepaid Card
- ACH (eCheck)
- Online Bill Pay
- Cash at the Rivers cage
- Bank wire transfer
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)
- 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
- Fixed odds
- Point spread
- Run lines
- Prop bets
- In-play betting
Welcome packages and promotions
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.
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 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.
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 build high quality online and live sportsbooks, no matter how much of its earnings it has to give back to the state.
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