“Activity and Excitement:” BetRivers Goes All In on Retail Sportsbooks and Arena Lounges in PA

Posted By Katie Kohler on June 8, 2021

Since sports betting apps launched in Pennsylvania in May 2019, about 90% of all wagers have been placed online. However, it hasn’t stopped casinos from carving out precious real estate on the gaming floor to build state-of-the-art sportsbooks in PA. BetRivers Sportsbook has gone all in on the land-based sports betting experience across the state to complement its online offering.

DMAC Architecture of Chicago designed BetRivers Sportsbooks at Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. They also did the sportsbook-style lounges at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

With many coronavirus restrictions being lifted across Pennsylvania, you might be ready to venture to a retail sportsbook to enjoy a game in a social atmosphere. Here, we break down each BetRivers Sportsbook in PA and get some insight from Dwayne MacEwen, the principal and creative director of DMAC Architecture.

BetRivers Sportsbook at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh

Opened Sept 2019

Rivers Casino Pittsburgh debuted its $5 million 5,500-square-foot BetRivers Sportsbook just ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football (the Steelers won, 27-3).

Highlights: The BetRivers Sportsbook is in the center of the gaming floor with private booths and two 50×7 LED video walls.

BetRivers Sportsbook in Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture.

Place your bets: 33 self-service betting kiosks and six betting windows.

Hours:

  • Monday-Friday 11 a.m. – Midnight.
  • Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. – Midnight

Tips for your visit: The BetRivers Sportsbook is walking distance from Heinz Field and PNC Park.

Insight from the architect:

“The sportsbook can really serve to activate the entire gaming floor and it’s become a game within the gaming floor,” said MacEwen. “There is activity and excitement. It’s a great experience you can’t replicate at home even with monster TVs or fan caves. The defining factor when we designed it was how do we amplify the sportsbook experience? What can you get here that you can’t get at home?”

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BetRivers Sportsbook at Rivers Casino Philadelphia

Opened October 2019

Rivers Casino Philadelphia (then called SugarHouse Casino) spent $5 million to build a 5,700-square-foot BetRivers Sportsbook.

Highlights: Massive HD video wall capable of showing more than a dozen games at once, lots of comfortable seating.

Place your bets: 22 self-service betting kiosks (Kambi) and six betting windows.

Hours:

  • Wednesday – Friday: 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Saturday – Monday: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Tips for your visit: At some sportsbooks, you have to battle for seating. But there are plenty of big comfy black recliners at Rivers Philly. Jim Llewellyn, manager of BetRivers Sportsbook, and his team do a really good job making guests feel welcome.

Insight from the architect: 

“The ergonomics, the angle of your neck from the chair watching the screen, are definitely part of it,” said MacEwen. “The aspect ratio and the resolution of the screens is something we pay a lot of attention to.”

(Photos by Katie Kohler.)

Sportsbooks in arenas

Monumental Sports, the parent company of the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals, opened a temporary sportsbook in the lobby of Capital One Arena. It’s the first in-arena sportsbook in North America. Other teams like the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals have plans for sportsbooks inside their stadiums.

An in-arena sportsbook with betting kiosks and teller windows won’t be coming to Pennsylvania. By law, only casinos or off-track-betting facilities are permitted to house sportsbooks.

Since there are 12 legal sports betting apps in Pennsylvania, you can bet in the arena (or anywhere in the state if you are over 21+) as long as you have internet access.

BetRivers built two sportsbook-style lounges in arenas at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. They are everything but-the-kitchen-sink sportsbooks, which in this case means no kiosks/tellers.

What are the different challenges of designing sportsbooks at casinos and arenas?

“At casinos, there is a different type of customer,” said MacEwen. “People end up migrating onto the casino floor to play table games or slots. Finding a spot (for the sportsbook) on the gaming floor, whether it’s adjacent to the table games so you can see the screens, is a lot of what we do. In stadiums the action is on the ice.”

Building a sportsbook-style lounge in arenas

The first two sentences on DMAC Architecture’s “about” section read:

“We are an architectural firm. But more than that we are storytellers.”

Sports are the ultimate story. How do you create an environment that’s conducive to being a part of the story?

“Understanding the DNA of the arena,” said MacEwen. “We are not the main focus in the arena. But how do we connect to the pulse? We want to create an environment where it’s a game within a game. Obviously, the team’s colors come into effect. Some subtle clues like pennants and flags. In Philly, there are certain numbers and clues that people who understand sports will pick up on. A common thing in all of our work is to make storytelling a part of it. When we were doing restaurants for Michael Jordan, there isn’t memorabilia, but there is nuance and storytelling about his career. It isn’t too kitsch.”

In PA you can bet anywhere on your phone. What do retail sportsbooks or lounges in arenas offer?

“It’s a pack mentality (at a sportsbook). It’s like the craps table,” said MacEwen. “When it’s a home crowd and there is money on the line or if there is in-game betting, it makes it more exciting. It’s not just about winners and losers and waiting until the end of the game. There’s in-game betting and the adrenaline rush when like-minded people are together.”

BetRivers at the Wells Fargo Center

Opened October 2019

The Rivers Casino Philadelphia Sports Lounge on the Main Concourse level is located in the redesigned south end of the arena. The 5,680 square-foot space features ten 86″ screens grouped throughout the seating areas, mixed with odds boards and an additional 16 monitors at the bar.

The BetRivers.com Sports Lounge, located on the New City Terrace, faces the bowl so fans can watch Philadelphia Flyers or the Sixers action as it happens below. The nearly 6,500-square-foot lounge has club chairs, bar and table seating, as well as a custom 22-feet long by eight feet tall LED video wall that anchors the viewing area, which has its own dedicated seating space.

Tips for your visit: The Rivers Casino Philadelphia Sports Lounge took over the spot formerly occupied by P.J. Whelihans. It still trends more toward a bar than a sportsbook.

The BetRivers.com Sports Lounge on the New City Terrace has more of a sportsbook feel. It’s next to the Assembly Room. Pre-pandemic, the Assembly Room served as a $25-per-ticket general admission standing room area.

(Photos by Katie Kohler.)

BetRivers Lounge at PPG Paints Arena

Opened April 2021

The BetRivers Lounge opened at the PPG Paints Arena just in time for the start of the Pittsburgh Penguins Round 1 matchup with the New York Islanders in Round One of the NHL Playoffs. Like the Wells Fargo Center BetRivers Lounge, it doesn’t have betting kiosks or teller windows. Unlike Philadelphia, it is a lot closer to the ice.

Details on the BetRivers Lounge at PPG Paints Arena

  • Location: FedEx level, third floor, section 119
  • Features: Two rows of ticketed bowl seats, a lounge area with club chairs, a generous bar top, hi-def video screens, and streaming odds boards. Here’s a video of the BetRivers Lounge.
  • How to get tickets to the BetRivers Lounge: BetRivers Lounge seating will be available at ticketmaster.com/penguins for select games. You can also call 412.642.PENS to purchase.
  • Tips for your visit: Don’t freak out or think a droid from Star Wars has invaded the PPG Paints concourse. The Penguins teamed with Carnegie Robotics to bring autonomous UV floor scrubbers to PPG Paints Arena.

Insight from the architect:

“One of the lessons we learned at Wells Fargo and PPG Paints is that if we can get closer to the ice surface and the action, it’s helpful. At the BetRivers Lounge in Pittsburgh, we took out 22 rows that were 100-level seats and built a bar around the concourse with 32 premium seats. I think that’s a different kind of sportsbook where it’s the best seat in the house. It’s really for the sports enthusiast who bets on the game at the game.”

(Photos courtesy of DMAC Architecture.)

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She is the Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania and covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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