Cover The Spread: Penn’s Practice In MS And WV Will Pay PA Dividends

Written By Grant Lucas on November 9, 2018 - Last Updated on December 14, 2023
West Virginia University football stadium

The incoming group of Pennsylvania sportsbooks features something of a who’s who in the new world of legalized sports betting.

Rush Street Gaming has PA sports betting operations expected to launch at SugarHouse Casino and Rivers Casino, in early December. However, it already has its PlaySugarHouse mobile sportsbook blossoming in nearby New Jersey. International gaming giant Caesars Entertainment plans to open a Harrah’s Casino sportsbook in early 2019.

Parx Casino is not a national gaming brand, but it is the most successful casino in the state. It hopes to carry that success over into the launch of Parx Sportsbook in the near future.

Yet all of these properties will play second fiddle to a company that has already proven to be a sports betting trendsetter, at least at the outset. Penn National Gaming will presumably roll out the state’s first sportsbook when Hollywood Sportsbook opens later this month.

Penn National and its sports betting partner William Hill US will set the tone for the state. And they will do so using the knowledge and experience that comes with already launching sportsbooks in two other states.

Experience leads the way

Between West Virginia and Mississippi, Penn National boasts five sportsbooks. Operations in both states began in late August. Even in that narrow window, though, the company surely became savvy in the sports betting industry.

Penn National started with Mississippi

In fall 2017, expanded gambling legislation in Pennsylvania allowed for a path toward legal sports betting in the Keystone State. Yet casinos hesitated to drop $10 million for a sports betting license and didn’t like the 36 percent tax rate either. Pennsylvania sports betting spent months spinning its wheels.

In the meantime, Penn National capitalized elsewhere.

The company opened sportsbooks at four properties in Mississippi. In a release announcing Penn National’s plans, company CEO Timothy Wilmott noted how excitement to bring sports betting to the Magnolia State had been swelling since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA in May.

With football season kicking off shortly after Penn National’s casinos began offering sports betting, the timing was ideal. As Justin Carter, general manager for Penn National’s properties in Tunica, said in the release:

“With the extreme passion in the region around sports, and college athletics in particular, we look forward to becoming a destination for fans in northern Mississippi, Memphis, and Arkansas.”

Numbers pointing towards sports betting success

Football, as expected, carried the load in September, the second full month of legalized sports betting in Mississippi. The sport accounted for nearly $4 million in revenue for all Mississippi casinos, which combined for more than $5.5 million in overall revenue. While the state does not break down revenue by property but rather by region, we can get a general idea of how Penn National properties have fared.

Two of the company’s sportsbooks contributed to the Coastal region’s state-leading $3.9 million in revenue, while another two had hands in the Northern region’s $1.1 million, the second-most of the three regions. While not gaudy numbers, these figures came solely from retail wagering, as there is no mobile sports betting in the state.

Similarly, when Pennsylvania sports betting launches, it will only be retail, with mobile to come sometime early next year.

Hollywood one of the only WV operators

Penn National was not the first to offer sports betting in Mississippi. It was, however, the trendsetter in West Virginia.

For two weeks, the company’s Hollywood Casino Charles Town operated alone in the Mountaineer State. The lion’s share of $1,561,796 in revenue over the first half of September belonged to the casino.

By October, as the industry grew, Hollywood had booked more than $9 million in wagers. Hollywood upped its handle with each passing week since launching. And its revenue, not including outstanding futures bets, stood at $2.3 million.

Like Mississippi, West Virginia still has not rolled out mobile sports betting. Soon, though, that could change.

Speaking as part of a webinar for ICE Sports Betting USA in late SeptemberErich Zimny, the vice president of racing and sports operations at Hollywood, indicated a mobile sportsbook is on the way.

“So we expect to launch our mobile app, I don’t have a firm date. It’s not going to be next week, it’s not going to be three to four months from now; we hope to get it up and running in the next few weeks.”

From Mississippi, Penn National continued moving forward in West Virginia. And now it looks to continue the trend in Pennsylvania.

PA sports betting around the corner

Penn National became the first to apply for a PA sports betting license back in August. It was the firstpetition for a sports wagering certificate the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board conditionally approved too.

William Hill’s application to operate in the state is approved as well. The major hurdles, it would seem, are behind them. It appears that sometime this month the property will unveil the state’s first sportsbook.

Penn National rolls into the Keystone State with its own experience and a well-respected sports betting partner. William Hill, after all, is one of the biggest bookmakers in the world. For example, it operates retail and mobile sportsbooks in nearby New Jersey.

When it comes to US sports betting, few companies have more experience and insight. Launching in Pennsylvania first only adds to that reputation.

Photo by Aspen Photo /

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.

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