There are plenty of people that are not big fans of online gambling expansion in Pennsylvania. One that may sound surprising is Parx CEO, Anthony Ricci.
At a Thursday PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) hearing regarding Parx Casino’s license renewal, Ricci sounded off to the board regarding just about every facet of the 2017 gambling bill.
Ricci is enthusiastic about retail sports betting
That is not to say Ricci wasn’t enthusing about some elements of gambling expansion. He said the casino is already reaping the benefits of Parx Sportsbook. When it comes to sportsbook customers, Ricci says it is a new customer the casino is very excited about:
“[Customers] skews a little younger, it does. And people who haven’t come to the casino previously, so we’re pleased about that. It’s attracting a different audience. That’s why we want to proceed with the construction of a permanent sportsbook as an attraction to draw people in, particularly during football season.”
Ricci did admit that these new people at Parx are not interested in every gaming offering.
“That sports bettor isn’t a slots customer,” he said. “They could be tables games or poker though.”
Ricci sounds off on supposed cannibalization concerns
When asked about potential cannibalization of these new sportsbook customers, Ricci was happy to paint a worst-case scenario that indicted multiple pieces of gambling expansion.
First, he came after online betting:
“It’s a legitimate concern…It’s not something Bob Green and I were advocating for because you’re combining what is potentially one addictive behavior with another addictive behavior on a cell phone. But that’s the law now. It’s our industry, we have to compete as well as we can.”
Ricci went on to compare the plight of retail stores like J.C. Penney going out of business in the era of online shopping to what might befall Parx and other casinos after mobile gaming launches.
MGM and Golden Nugget subjects of criticism
Two companies that seemed to really draw his ire are the two outside entities petitioning their way into the PA online gambling market. PGCB opened up the interactive gaming license process to qualified gaming entities (QGEs) after there were several unused interactive licenses. Golden Nugget NJ, the top-performing NJ online casino, and MGM’s Borgata Casino each applied.
PGCB approved the two as QGEs in January. That is not stopping Ricci from taking shots at the two groups, suggesting they may not have the state’s best interests in mind:
“One of the concerns is that you have other operators coming into the state the way this process is conducted that may not have brick and mortar investment. All they’ve got is a server and they could spend a lot of money marketing, maybe not be so intelligent in what they give a customer to attract them because there is a very low cost of entry for them and they’ll take a shot. It could destabilize the situation.”
Both properties operate online casino businesses in New Jersey. Golden Nugget took in an astonishing $12.18 million in online casino revenue last month. It is also worth noting several other non-native companies have stake in the PA game thanks to a series of online gambling partnerships.
Can you compare NJ online casinos to PA?
Towards the end of his questioning, Ricci really zeroed in on the population disbursement when it comes to PA casinos. Currently, around 68 percent of the population lives within 25 miles of a casino.
The Parx leader admitted that, now that it is law, Parx will aim to be the top PA online gaming provider. He still worries the PGCB and other casinos will spend too much time trying to grow the new market instead of focusing on what matters.
“There is a concern it could be a problem for the brick and mortar, which is where the jobs are, where the capital investment is. I’m a bit concerned about the long-term prospects.”
Many industry experts point to how the New Jersey online market resulted in brick and mortar casino growth as well as a healthy new revenue generator. Ricci though, says you cannot possibly compare the two.
“Ninety-five percent of the New Jersey residents are more than 25 miles away from a casino in New Jersey,” he said. When asked if online cannibalized Atlantic City, he balked.
“Of course not. Nobody lives around Atlantic City.”
So, when it comes to how online will impact PA, Ricci remains insistent that there is no way to tell.
“Nobody knows, there’s no history on this.”
Even State Senator Robert Tomlinson, who spoke in favor of Parx as a community partner backed Ricci up. He described New Jersey’s online gaming approach as a “defensive mechanism” to try and win back residents going to Philadelphia casinos. Tomlinson voted against the online gambling expansion package and regularly supports Parx’s point of view about gaming in PA.
Ricci’s anti-online stance is nothing new. However, this important appearance in front of the PGCB might make regulators even more gun shy than they already are in the wake of the new DOJ Wire Act opinion.