Pennsylvania regulators on Wednesday approved the state's first two sports-betting licenses, and if a sudden shortage of flat-screen televisions occurs at local appliance outlets, blame the casinos.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted its first two sports-betting licenses to the operators of the Parx Casino in Bensalem and the Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized nationwide sports wagering in May. Parx hopes to start taking bets in November, ahead of peak wagering season: the National Football League playoffs.
The casinos sketched out their plans for sports-betting venues to the gaming board, and if there is one common feature, it's that they all promise a full-scale visual onslaught of televised sports to enhance the wagering experience.
Parx Casino plans to convert its 360 Lounge into a temporary sportsbook, featuring 12 self-service kiosks and seven betting windows. The lounge will feature two 16-by-9-foot high-definition televisions displaying betting odds and a score of 75-inch televisions showing sports.
Parx is also spending $1 million to renovate its South Philadelphia Turf Club offtrack betting outlet as a satellite sportsbook, with new carpet, paint, security measures — and 150 HD televisions.
"You can watch pretty much any game that's on in the country," said John Dixon, the chief technology officer of Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., Parx's parent company.
The Hollywood Casino sportsbook, which will be located in an existing 5,000-square-foot horse-racing simulcast theater, will have almost 60 televisions. It should be ready to begin in the "next few months," said Daniel Ihm, general manager of the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.
Since the Supreme Court's ruling lifted the federal ban outside Nevada, sports betting has been launched in three neighboring states: New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia. New Jersey sportsbooks also offer online sports betting for patrons inside the state.
Parx officials said they hoped to start online sports betting in January, which will be open to any registered player in the state. Interactive betting takes more time to start up because it requires more regulatory approvals — numerous suppliers and systems need to be examined — than brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
"Online, there's a lot more pieces to the puzzle." Tony Ricci, chief executive of the Parx parent company, said in an interview Tuesday. "There are a multitude of vendors involved, and they all need to be licensed and tested."
But, Parx hopes to immediately offer in-house wireless betting at its casinos, which would allow patrons at its physical locations to bet on mobile devices connected to the casino's closed, internal WiFi system.
The reason Parx wants to accelerate a smartphone-based betting system is simple: It makes it much easier for bettors to wager on a games in progress, which they say accounts for most business at New Jersey's sports-betting venues.
"You can't do in-game betting with tellers and kiosks," said Dixon. "It's just not fast enough."
Casinos had complained that the Pennsylvania's $10 million license fee and a 36 percent tax rate — four times higher than New Jersey's — were serious impediments to legal bookmakers entering the state, but five casinos have so far applied to conduct bookmaking operations.
The sports-betting applications of three other casinos are likely to be taken up at the gaming board's Oct. 31 meeting: Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester, SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown, and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
Building virtual casinos
At the same time the industry is gearing up for sports wagering, casinos are preparing to launch online offerings of such casino games as blackjack, poker, and slots.
The Gaming Control Board also approved two new interactive gaming licenses Wednesday for the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia and the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.
The board previously approved the first three online gambling licenses for Parx, Harrah's, and Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos. The actual launch of online gaming is unclear because the gaming board is reviewing online service providers and the casinos' internal controls.
Eleven of 13 Pennsylvania casinos have applied for licenses to offer interactive casino table games, simulated slot machines, and peer-to-peer poker games, permitted under the state gaming law passed last year.
But not all of them are eager about the launch of the business.
Ricci, the Greenwood Gaming chief executive whose operations include Parx, had argued against online gaming last year before the Pennsylvania legislature approved it. He believes internet gaming will take business away from physical casinos, just as Amazon has devastated retail stores.
"We believed then, and still believe, that we would be better served without internet gaming," said Ricci. "But, the legislature decided to create an internet gaming option for the industry, and we're in that industry, and we have to adapt to a new environment and make the best of it."
Officials from Sands, which is selling its casino for $1.3 billion to Alabama's Poarch Band of Creek Indians, on Wednesday presented their application for an interactive license to the gaming board, even though the Sands chairman, Sheldon Adelson, is fiercely opposed to internet gaming.
The Sands officials made it clear that they were applying for the license only to meet a condition of the sale. The casino faced a deadline to apply for the license, which will be transferred to the casino's new owners.