Bet, Philly, Bet: Eagles Upset Highlights Opening Week Of Sports Betting At SugarHouse

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The Philadelphia Eagles picked an interesting week to win as an underdog for the first time all season. Behind Super Bowl MVP back-up quarterback Nick Foles, the Eagles won outright as a double-digit ’dog against the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday night, a result that brought feverish excitement — and a lot of opening of the cash registers — to SugarHouse Casino.

On just the second official day of sports betting at the only casino in Philly, 91% of the moneyline bets at SugarHouse in the Rams-Eagles game were on the local team … at +600 odds.

And it was 91% of a sizable pie.

“We took roughly five times the amount of action on that game compared to our average NFL game for the weekend,” SugarHouse VP and General Counsel Evan Davis told Penn Bets. “Believe it or not, our largest point-spread wager was on the Rams, a $5,000 wager. But 91% of the tickets that were written on the moneyline were written on the Eagles, and roughly 60 or 65% of the tickets bet on the spread were on the Eagles. Whenever a hometown underdog pulls off a huge upset, you’re going to see results that won’t be emblematic of your typical weekend.

“But the energy in here was just amazing. To have the Eagles on a prime-time Sunday night game and pull off a pretty historic upset, it was a great vibe in here and you could see that in the customers that were watching the game.”

It was the kind of opening weekend that might represent a short-term hit to the house but has long-term benefits. The Eagles’ win created a little extra buzz — buzz that was still carrying over a couple of days later.

Weekday wagering

Penn Bets checked out SugarHouse and its new sportsbook on Tuesday afternoon. It was the sixth day of action since the “soft launch” the previous Thursday, and you might think on a ho-hum Tuesday afternoon, especially at 4 p.m., before the after-work crowd had started filing in, the sportsbook would be dead.

That wasn’t the case. There were three tellers working, with the line to bet about six to ten people deep at all times. There are also six kiosks with on-screen menus resembling the Play Sugarhouse mobile app that’s active in New Jersey, and there was a consistent line of about five to eight people waiting to place bets at the central bank of kiosks.

sugarhouse sportsbook line
Would-be wagerers waited patiently to place bets with the tellers in the temporary sportsbook
sugarhouse sportsbook kiosks
Bettors were lined up on a Tuesday afternoon to test out the wagering kiosks at SugarHouse

Fox Sports’ Lock It In was playing on the main TV screen in the temporary sportsbook, with the volume turned on — a smart move by the house to get the sports betting juices flowing.

But in a passionate sports town like Philly, even on a day with no Eagles or 76ers games (the Flyers did play Tuesday night), it seemed the customers didn’t need much extra encouragement. And Davis said it had been that way since Saturday morning.

“It was well populated throughout the day from opening to close all weekend long,” Davis said. “We saw a steady flow of people coming through, placing wagers on professional and college, basketball and football, hockey, we saw that wagering activity throughout the day.”

Peaks and pizzas

Davis said the betting action’s peak came Sunday, shortly in advance of the 1 p.m. NFL kickoffs, but that there was hardly an empty seat to be found anytime on Saturday or Sunday.

“Throughout the weekend, we saw a steady flow of activity at the windows and people sitting in the sportsbook watching the games that they may or may not have wagered on,” Davis noted. “It was really a place not just to bet on sports but to watch games, to eat, to drink, to hang out.”

The eating and drinking elements are especially convenient. There are, as you’d expect, cocktail waitresses about at all times to take beverage orders, but every table in the sportsbook also has a menu on it, featuring options from in-house restaurants Geno’s Steaks, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria (a local favorite of many Philadelphians), and more, that you can order via text without giving up your cushioned seat.

sugarhouse sportsbook menu
SugarHouse caters to customers’ appetites for food or action

The only game in town

Along with Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has the same parent company (Rush Street Gaming), SugarHouse became the second/third casino in the state to take bets, behind only Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. Hollywood’s $1.4 million in sports betting handle in its first partial month has to be encouraging to the SugarHouse folks.

And with the other Philadelphia-area venues, including Parx Casino, Valley Forge Casino, and Harrah’s Philadelphia just outside the city, all slow to get launched, SugarHouse has a momentary monopoly.

“We were very excited to be the first to launch in the Philadelphia area,” Davis said. “It’s something that we know that our customers, and other Philadelphians who were not yet our customers, have been waiting for for a very long time, and certainly for the last six or seven months since the Supreme Court issued its PASPA decision. So being first in this area was something that was very important to us. We’re excited to be the first to offer this to every Philadelphian who wanted to be able to bet on sports and not have to drive to Delaware or open an online account in New Jersey.

“But it’s not just about being first. It was also important to offer a top-notch product, even in our temporary facility. And I think we’ve been able to do that. The number of people this weekend who couldn’t believe that was a temporary facility was astounding.”

Coming soon(ish) …

It might be a while before the permanent book, which will be located across the casino floor somewhere around the area where the Lucky Red Lounge is currently situated, replaces the temp book. No ground has been broken yet. Plans are still being finalized.

Last Thursday, General Manager Cheryl Duhon told Penn Bets it would open in the first half of 2019, and that’s the most detailed information available so far.

Davis did note that the roster of bets customers can make will be expanding as SugarHouse gets more settled in at the temporary book.

“For various proposition bets, there are certain regulatory approvals that we’ll need to obtain and roll those out,” he said. “There is some menu of in-game options now, and we’ll be rolling out more in the days, weeks, and months to come.”

In the short-term, it presumably is a good thing for handle that the Eagles won last week to keep their playoff hopes alive. (According to fivethirtyeight.com, they shot from a 15% chance at reaching the postseason pre-game to 37% after beating the Rams — then 39% once Carolina lost on Monday night.) How much of a difference will it make at SugarHouse if the defending Super Bowl champs keep winning behind Foles and sneak into the playoffs?

“Whether people’s interest in betting on them here correlates with whether they’re winning or losing remains to be seen,” Davis said. “But what I can tell you is, knowing this town as a sports town, to the extent that the Eagles are doing better, people’s interest in going out and watching them with their friends out of the house, I think, is going to pick up. So if the Eagles can remain in the hunt, I think we’re going to see that excitement carry through the rest of the season, whether people are betting on them or just coming here to eat, drink, and watch the games.”

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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