PGCB’s Kevin O’Toole Talks Online Launches, Apple Woes, And The Future Of PA Gaming

Written By Bill Gelman on June 20, 2019 - Last Updated on April 10, 2024
PGCB Executive Director launch interview

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is extremely busy these days. The May 31 launch of the PlaySugarHouse sports betting app is just the start of bigger things to come.

How well did the long-awaited launch of PA online sports betting app go?

Is the delayed release of an app for iOS devices creating a rotten-apple mood among Pennsylvania gamblers?

What else can gamblers expect to see by the time the 2019 NFL season kicks off on Sept. 5?

PlayPennsylvania addressed these topics and more when we caught up with PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole during the recent East Coast Gaming Congress at Harrah’s Atlantic City.

SugarHouse status check

The SugarHouse launch is one of the hot topics these days.

The Philadelphia sports betting crowd (and beyond) can now visit the land-based sportsbook, and place wagers at the window or using the app right from his or her seat.

With only one platform on the market, the comparisons will come later. In terms of whether or not PlaySugarHouse is living up to expectations, O’Toole is pleased with the early response.

I try not to set expectations. I think the rollout went well, and I think if there were any surprises, I  was pleasantly surprised that they were able to attract a substantial number of players to register, and a good number made deposits. So there was play.”

There has been pretty consistent play for the last couple of weeks. In fact, in its first four days online, the online sportsbook accepted $573,163 in bets.

Besides reporting some stellar sports betting revenue numbers, SugarHouse had more news. It is getting a new name. The new Rivers Philadelphia will get some property upgrades, and the new name will become official sometime this summer.

No sour Apples, yet

Android customers have been able to download the Kambi-powered platform since launch day.

Those with iOS devices, meanwhile, are sitting on the sidelines wondering if and when SugarHouse’s sports betting app will ever come. After all, the New Jersey-branded version has been in the App Store since late August.

It’s not only PA sportsbooks that are under scrutiny. This new iOS policy could be a threat to PA online casinos, too.

O’Toole spoke to the lack of an iOS app in PA:

I don’t think that had as big of an effect that people thought it might, so that was a very good development. Everybody is moving forward with or without an Apple app.”

Talking about New Jersey online gambling

The neighboring Garden State is several months ahead of PA in the online sports betting game.

The Keystone State will most likely have four or five apps operational by the time football betting season comes around. The NJ market, meanwhile, stands at 14 and counting.

It just happens that O’Toole and his New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement counterpart, David Rebuck, sat on the same panel at ECGC.

When asked if he consulted Rebuck during the launch of sports betting in PA, O’Toole responded:

Our neighboring jurisdictions are always helpful. So in terms of planning out any test period we could confer with New Jersey probably eight or nine months ago. That’s always helpful to make sure that we are catching what’s important and that we are not missing anything.”

PA online gambling launch

The next mobile sports betting app launch is not the only thing PA gamblers are looking forward to this summer.

Following years of buildup and anticipation, Pennsylvania online casinos are just a few weeks away. Online gambling in PA is targeted to launch the week of July 15. At least that is the projected timeline.

O’Toole says the launch of online casinos in PA are on schedule.

It’s still the week of July 15. Those who get up and running with their sportsbook platforms, I think have a head start. It is basically the same platform, it just takes you into different segments of that platform.”

While O’Toole is correct about Android apps, the shared platform between sportsbooks and casinos will more than likely be a massive headache for the iPhone app. The new guidelines require pretty much all online casinos to recode their platform, so properties will likely consider separating their book and casino apps rather than risk having a sports betting app off the market months longer than necessary.

Setting the PA sports betting roster

The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for training camp. It means Pennsylvania land-based casinos are gearing up for the biggest season on the sports betting calendar.

O’Toole told us by between now and Sept. 1 that three more retail sportsbooks should be up and running.

It would increase the field to nine retail operations. The new additions are:

The list does not include the permanent spaces scheduled to open this summer at SugarHouse and Parx.

O’Toole also spoke to the possibility of additional online sportsbooks:

“They are more time consuming to have everything in place, so it’s hard to predict. There are three [land-based] sportsbooks in the works. If they are ready for online, we will do that, too.”

It seems likely the next apps to go live are:

When asked about the list, O’Toole simple responded, “That’s a good realistic expectation.”

No matter how things unfold, it’s clear the PA online sports betting and casino market are just getting off the ground.

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Bill Gelman

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill covers the legal gambling industry including sports betting, online casinos and Atlantic City casino news.

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