Just over one year since Governor Tom Wolf put pen to paper and legalized Pennsylvania sports betting, the Keystone State is finally ready to launch its first sportsbooks.
The ramp up began back in early October, when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved Pennsylvania sports betting operator licensing applications submitted by Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment. The two companies operate the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Parx Casino, respectively.
Earlier this week, the PGCB approved three more applications from SugarHouse Casino, Harrah’s Chester Downs, and Rivers Casino.
All told, five of Pennsylvania’s 12 casino venues have been permitted to construct onsite sportsbook facilities.
Each approved operator paid a $10 million licensing fee to the state, and sportsbook revenue will be taxed at 36 percent – an especially high rate relative to industry standard.
That exorbitant tax rate has been cited as the primary reason for the slow pace of implementation, as Pennsylvania has fallen behind the pace established by states like Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi. All four states have already launched their own legal bet shops in the wake of May’s ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court which repealed a federal ban on the industry outside of Nevada.
But per PCGB spokesman Doug Harbach, the state is seeking balance between expediency and effectiveness:
“While the movement toward these approvals may seem slow to some who are anxious to participate in sports wagering in Pennsylvania.
We are moving as swiftly as possible to ensure the sportsbooks meet the same level of integrity seen in the performance of slot machines and table games in our casinos.”
A little over one week ago, the PCGB also named William Hill U.S. – the American arm of U.K. bookmaker William Hill and the largest sportsbook operator in Nevada – as the first firm approved to set lines and odds.
William Hill U.S. maintains a partnership with Penn National Gaming, operating the latter’s recently opened Hollywood Casino sportsbooks in both West Virginia and Mississippi.
That partnership makes Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course the most likely candidate to take Pennsylvania sports betting’s first legal wagers.
Penn National Gaming spokesman Eric Schippers agrees, telling the Meadville Tribune that Hollywood Casino’s sportsbook should be up and running imminently:
“We’re hoping to begin around the middle to the end of this month but are still awaiting final sign-off.”
Harbach confirmed as much in his own statement to the newspaper:
“That one should move forward now pretty briskly.
“Most of the work going forward is in the hands of the casinos, which must get their physical location set up.”
The physical location at Hollywood Casino consists of six windows for Pennsylvania sports betting, a pair of overhead odds display boards, a 110-inch video wall, and 36 television screens measuring 55 inches apiece.
With construction complete, it’s now up to PCGB executive director Kevin O’Toole to provide final signoff on the facility.
O’Toole was granted autonomy in facility approval during a PCGB hearing held on Wednesday, November 7 – a move which mimics the policy put in place by gaming regulators in neighboring New Jersey.
In an email exchange with local gaming industry outlet Play Pennsylvania, Harbach explained the PCGB’s decision to streamline the final approval process:
“We have done this over the years for the opening of a casinos in which there have been full test nights, and when table games launched we also had test periods that were observed and those with authority ‘signed off’ on the readiness to offer to the public.
We will have similar test periods for sports wagering and expect to announce the first of those soon.”