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PHILADELPHIA — Rejoice, Philly: You now have legal sports betting.
SugarHouse Casino boasted that it was the “First in Philly” on Thursday, is the first casino in Pennsylvania’s largest city to open a retail sportsbook.
The soft opening officially got underway just after 2 p.m. on Thursday. SugarHouse was not the first for PA sports betting, however, as Hollywood Casino in the middle of the state got that honor. SugarHouse sister property, Rivers Casino, also launched sports betting in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Cheryl Duhon, general manager of SugarHouse, got the sports betting ball rolling by making a brief, but historical announcement:
“Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready? This is an exciting day for SugarHouse. I’ll count down and tell them to place their bets. Three, two, one … Place your bets!”
Patrons at each of the six betting windows placed a bet and received a bet slip. One person decided to wager $100 for the Los Angeles Rams to cover the 11.5-point spread against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. Another guest decided to take a $200 chance on the struggling Philadelphia Flyers.
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The process started the two-day sports betting test period. The SugarHouse Sportsbook will be accepting bets from 2 p.m. to midnight during the first two days of operation. Pending approval by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, who had several members onsite overseeing operation, regular hours will start 10 a.m. Saturday. Duhon referred to it as “the blowout day.”
Duhon, who took over as SugarHouse’s general manager about six months ago, talked about the pre-launch process prior to the first bets.
“We’ve been working on this since I started with SugarHouse about six months now. It’s been a true partnership and collaboration between our team, the PGCB and gaming.
“Just been working really hard to get it done. We are really excited to get it going.”
SugarHouse and Rivers, both owned by Rush Street Gaming, held simultaneous soft openings on Thursday. The odds at both sites are identical.
The same odds also can be found on the SugarHouse Sportsbook & Casino app available to bettors in New Jersey via Rush Street Interactive. SugarHouse has an online sports betting partnership with Monmouth Park. Technically speaking, SugarHouse has been in the sports betting game since the summer.
The Pennsylvania-New Jersey connection, for now at least is Kambi, a sports betting company based out of Europe. Regarding similarities between the New Jersey online/mobile sports betting platform and the sportsbook that will be rolled out in Pennsylvania, it’s too soon to say.
For now, the focus is entirely on the retail sportsbook. By having an operational sportsbook, SugarHouse has moved one step closer to making online sports betting a reality in Pennsylvania. In terms of a specific timeline, it is to be determined in 2019.
“We put all of our resources into getting the land-based launched,” Duhon said. “Once we let the dust settle, soon we will be able to focus on both. Most of it will be based on the timing and testing. Hopefully, sometime before mid next year.”
The upside to having established online sports betting presence with a customer base separated by a river is there is familiarity with the SugarHouse brand. Evan Davis, vice president and general counsel for SugarHouse, sees it as a plus for when SugarHouse enters the online/mobile phase of sports betting.
“I would say we are certainly steps ahead of those who don’t have an online gaming presence as of today,” said Davis.
SugarHouse, along with Rivers, was approved for a license by the PGCB on Oct. 31.
It got the ball rolling on opening a temporary sports betting space just off the north entrance of the property and footsteps away from the poker room. The area is designed with a combination of lounge chairs, high-top tables and regular tables and chairs, and can currently seat about 80 people.
The odds are posted on the wall behind the betting windows, with four screens above. The other wall has eight smaller screens, with a 14-by-7 centered in the middle of the wall. Betting kiosks, which were still being worked on early Thursday afternoon, will be available, too.
Food and beverages are available to order. Those new to the sports betting game can grab one of the SugarHouse Sportsbook gaming guides for a crash course.
Like mobile/online betting, SugarHouse has near-future plans to build a bigger on-property sportsbook. It will be built near the Lucky Red lounge. The details are still be worked out, but next year is the target.
For now, the temporary space works just fine for introducing Philadelphia-area residents to the world of legalized sports betting.
“I think a number of our customers who are playing online in New Jersey either live or work in Pennsylvania, so this offers them an opportunity on this side of the river,” Davis said.
“It’s great, not just for us, but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to collect tax revenues off of this activity as well.”