The Advantages Legalized Online Betting Has Brought to Pennsylvania

Todd Salem discusses the impact legal online gambling has had on Pennsylvania and the positive future for the state as it embraces the growth of the industry.

As of June 2020, there are already 18 states in America that have legalized sports gambling.

After the dam broke on Nevada’s quasi-monopoly, Pennsylvania, among many others, followed suit. The Hollywood Casino took in PA’s first legal sports bet back in 2018, but it hardly stands alone now in terms of options for sports gamblers, both in-person and online.

It is easy to see why PA took the plunge that many other states have taken. Sports gambling brings in massive amounts of revenue, both from residents as well as tourists. It isn’t necessarily proof of direct correlation, but New Jersey tourism numbers took massive jumps while it had legal sports gambling but Pennsylvania had yet to open up online gaming.

Revenue numbers are obviously down these past few months because of the worldwide pandemic that has halted the sports world, but there is no denying the benefit and the future potential of this revenue generator.

Take SugarHouse Casino (since renamed Rivers Casino) as an example. According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the SugarHouse sportsbook generated multi-million dollar revenue figures in its first six months of operation, even though that only included a measly two months of operating online.

Over the subsequent 12 months, which includes this current shutdown for the pandemic, revenue jumped to more than $22 million, nearly 75 percent of which was generated from online wagering.

This type of jump, both in terms of overall revenue and thanks to the ease and convenience of betting online, was not specific to Rivers Casino. It happened all across PA with the sportsbooks that were able to establish themselves before the shutdown. It happened in other states too, with similar trends taking place in Illinois and Colorado.

When American sports return en masse this summer, we will see two things: a continued jump in revenue thanks to sports gambling and a boost in casino traffic thanks to the very same thing (assuming casinos are fully open to the public). But even if in-person restrictions remain across parts of Pennsylvania for many more weeks, online betting will keep everything else afloat.

PA was slow to adopt online betting even after approving sports gambling. Some casinos, namely the aforementioned Hollywood Casino, still do not offer online betting. And their revenues suffer mightily.

In the winter of 2019-20, comfortably prior to league-wide shutdowns, the Hollywood Casino was bringing in roughly $3 million a month in wagers. Compare that to Rivers Casino, which never failed to top $35 million in wagers in any month from September through January.

The difference in retail wagering (2.5 times more wagers in the latter) could be explained away in the draws of the locations: Grantville versus Philadelphia. But online wagering allowed through Rivers simply blew away all figures of any kind from in-person wagering.

The advantages are self-evident. Gamblers who can wager online can place bets whenever they wish and as often as they wish (with some potential restrictions depending on the location). When the mood strikes, whether it be while at the grocery store or lounging around the house, an online sportsbook is always “open.” 

The one drawback for current PA residents is the prohibition on non-sporting-event gambling. What that means is PA folks are (currently) only allowed to wager on action that takes place or directly results from action during play; between the lines so to speak.

This rules out lots of very popular betting: the NFL Draft, Coach of the Year wagers, Gatorade props, etc. That may not always be the case. As stated, Pennsylvania was hesitant to open up online gambling at first too but ended up reaping the benefits. It may eventually move toward a more laissez-faire attitude towards non-sporting-event gambling as well.

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