SugarHouse Sportsbook First To Offer Mobile Sports Betting In PA – More To Follow

SugarHouse Sportsbook First To Offer Mobile Sports Betting In PA – More To Follow

Legal sports betting in Pennsylvania began last November, when Hollywood Casino at Penn National launched the first retail sportsbook authorized by the state’s new gaming regulatory body – the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

That was six months ago. Yesterday (May 28, 2019) another sports betting milestone was reached in the state when a soft-launch for SugarHouse Casino’s mobile sportsbook went online. The process is slow and painstaking, but it’s underway. One example: the Android version of the app has gone live, while the iOS app still awaits PGCB approval.

Still, the long-awaited introduction of mobile sports betting apps has finally started. It won’t be long before PA sports bettors will have almost as many mobile sports betting options as they do retail sportsbook options.

Retail sportsbook wagers just the tip of the iceberg

This is a big deal for sports bettors and sportsbooks alike. The first retail sportsbook arrived last November and two more came in December. Four more arrived early in 2019 and right now, six casinos are operating eight different sportsbook locations (Parx Casino operates three itself). Four others casino operators are in the pipeline to acquire sports betting licenses and join the sportsbook party.

The PGCB sports betting license allows casino operators to run both retail and online (mobile) versions of their sportsbooks, but until now only the physical books have been green-lit to take bets. The delay was due to the PGCB waiting to make sure operators were able to successfully operate their books in compliance with state regulations before allowing them to branch out online.

Operators have been champing at the bit while they wait – and for good reason. Having a physical sportsbook retail location (or several) is valuable of course, but the real action is in mobile betting. Expect sports betting handle (total amount wagered) in the state to significantly increase once mobile applications have proliferated. Sports bettors really enjoy the convenience and flexibility that are allowed by mobile sports betting platforms.

To illustrate this point, we can look at neighboring New Jersey, which has had legal sports betting for a smidgen longer than has Pennsylvania. In NJ, mobile betting accounts for over 80% of the total handle generated by the legal casino sportsbooks in that state.

Who will be the first few sportsbooks to go mobile?

Mobile sports betting in PA will start modestly – just the BetSugarHouse sportsbook, but it will quickly be offered by all the licensed casino sportsbooks in the state. No operator would be silly enough to ignore mobile betting once it’s authorized by the PGCB.

The initial wave of mobile sportsbook operators will be:

App/WebsiteLicensed CasinoSportsbook PartnerMobile Launch Date
SugarHouse SportsbookSugarHouse CasinoKambiMay 28, 2019 (soft launch)
Rivers SportsbookRivers CasinoKambiTBD
Parx SportsbookParx CasinoKambiTBD

The rest of PA’s sportsbooks will come quickly after. Once the PGCB is satisfied that the first sportsbook platforms are operating smoothly and in compliance, everybody will be allowed to join in.

The retail sportsbook landscape in PA

The newly legalized sportsbook marketplace in Pennsylvania exists because of sweeping gaming legislation passed by the state in 2017. The PA legislature correctly foresaw that in May of 2018 the US Supreme Court would strike down the nationwide prohibition against sports betting.

The state’s gaming regulatory body (the PGCB) was expanded and licenses were created (costing $10 million) that allow sports betting, both retail and online. These licenses were offered up to PA’s 12 existing land-based casinos and racinos as well as a 13th – Stadium Casino: slated to be built in South Philly’s stadium district in December 2020.

There were other gaming changes too. An online lottery was created. Also, mini-casino licenses were created to allow existing casinos to augment their retail presence at other locations throughout the state. Along with existing off track betting (OTB) sites, these mini-casinos also serve as places where licensees can now open sportsbooks.

It all adds up to a rapidly increasing list of places where people can go in Pennsylvania to place a bet on a game:

Sportsbook LocationLicensed CasinoSportsbook PartnerOpening Date
Hollywood CasinoHollywoodWilliam HillNovember 16, 2018
SugarHouse CasinoSugarHouseKambiDecember 13, 2018
Rivers CasinoRiversKambiDecember 13, 2018
Parx CasinoParxKambiJanuary 10, 2019
South Philadelphia Turf ClubParxKambiJanuary 16, 2019
Harrah's PhiladelphiaHarrah'sScientific GamesJanuary 24, 2019
Valley Forge CasinoValley ForgeFanDuelMarch 12, 2019
Valley Forge Race & SportsbookParxKambiMarch 13, 2019
Mohegan Sun PoconoMohegan SunKambiTBD (sometime in 2019)
Mount Airy CasinoMount AiryBetStarsTBD (sometime in 2019)
Presque Isle DownsPresque IsleBetAmericaTBD (sometime in 2019)
Stadium CasinoStadiumTBDTBD (sometime in 2020)

The sports betting legal landscape in PA

To place a legal bet in Pennsylvania, you must be at least 21 years old and physically present in the state when the bet is made. This “geo-location” requirement is obviously met at retail sportsbooks. For the mobile apps, technology partners will ensure that incoming bets are only accepted from mobile devices physically located within Pennsylvania’s borders.

It is not required that you be a Pennsylvania resident to make legal bets, just that you are physically located in the state when you place those bets.

Who may NOT bet on sports in PA?

  • people that are too young (under 21 years old)
  • Athletes, coaches, officials, and other related personnel when the game in question is within their league or association.
  • “Excluded Gamblers” – a self-identified category in which people place themselves on a list of those whom casinos may not accept bets from.

What kinds of sports and games are legal for betting?

The PGCB allows for a wide range of professional and collegiate sports and games available at PA’s sportsbooks. Unlike neighboring NJ, there are no restrictions on collegiate sports. There, NJ sportsbooks are not allowed to accept bets on games where in-state universities are participants.

The only restrictions levied by the PGCB are against high-school (or younger) sports, e-sports, and some small novelty sports betting markets.

Another welcome legalization of PA’s 2017 gaming legislation: Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) are legal now in Pennsylvania.

Will DFS operators like FanDuel and Draftkings operate in PA?

These two DFS-cum sportsbook operators are always subjects of interest and speculation in the US as more and more states legalize sports betting.

For the case of FanDuel, we know a lot. They have partnered with Valley Forge Casino and opened their retail sportsbook this March. FanDuel’s highly-rated mobile sports betting app isn’t operational yet, but will be so very soon.

DraftKings’ status in PA is much more of a mystery. Despite being the industry leader in New Jersey, DraftKings has yet to find a path to a licensed sportsbook in PA, even though they have secured a market-access deal with Caesar’s Entertainment (Harrah’s). Most experts guess they will eventually find a Keystone State casino partner, but they haven’t managed it yet.

The regulatory burden: taxes and fees

As mentioned above, a Pennsylvania license to take sports bets costs $10 million. That’s a steep fee. Perhaps even more daunting, the state taxes gross sports betting revenues at a rate of 34% and authorizes local jurisdictions to tax another 2% for a total state tax of 36%. The federal government piles on too. There is a federal excise tax of 0.25% on the total sportsbook handle (amount wagered).

Compared to other US states that have begun to legalize sports betting, Pennsylvania’s fees and taxes are steep. It is an open question how PA casinos will fare under such an onerous burden. The first casualties will be those casino operators who perceive themselves as marginal producers and simply pass on the “opportunity”. Of the thirteen eligible casinos, only ten are expected to pursue sports betting).

There are other possible negative effects if the fees and taxes are set “too high”. One is the re-emergence of black market bookies in PA. Another is the diversion of Pennsylvania sports bettors to neighboring states (and their mobile sportsbooks). These unwanted results could occur if Pennsylvania’s legal sportsbooks have to offer unattractive odds to overcome the high tax and fee structure.

Time will tell if PA regulators have set the fees and taxes “correctly”. Of course, if they have it wrong, they can always adjust the costs to a more competitive level.