Rivers Sportsbook Opens In The Heart Of The Pittsburgh Athletic Scene

Written By Mark Gruetze on December 14, 2018
Rivers SPortsbook sign

Matt Butler of suburban Pittsburgh is experienced at betting on sports through offshore websites. He was first in line Thursday when Rivers Casino launched the first legal PA sportsbook in Western Pennsylvania.

Betting online is “too much hassle,” Butler said. The attraction of staying within the law brought him to Rivers, where he waited more than 90 minutes to put money on the Kansas City Chiefs. He took the Chiefs at -3.5 in their NFL game with the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday night.

Louis Campagna of Pittsburgh was behind Butler. He is another veteran of online sports wagering. Campagna was eager to bet on New England Patriots in their Sunday matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, which is about 200 yards from where he stood. Campagna said he’d already bet on the game through an offshore account but wanted to get in on the legal action as well. Rivers had the Patriots as 2½-point favorites.

What Rivers Sportsbook has to offer

The Rivers sportsbook, located between the high-limit table games room and a self-serve beverage station, is a comfortable, nonsmoking area with:

  • Nine large-screen TVs
  • 24 lounge chairs
  • 18 high-top tables capable of seating four people each.

It has six self-serve betting kiosks and a counter with six terminals for placing bets with human operators.

Casino executives, state officials, and representatives of the city’s three professional sports teams marked the occasion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Bets by some of Rivers’s top-tier customers followed. Then the sportsbook opened to Butler, Campagna, and others in line. Rivers Sportsbook is expected to begin full operations on Saturday, assuming state regulators approve after reviewing how equipment and personnel function during the two-day trial period.

Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg was the state’s first to offer sports betting. Rivers and its sister casino, SugarHouse in Philadelphia, both began their trial periods Thursday. Four other casinos, plus an off-track betting facility in Philadelphia, plan to add sportsbooks in the coming months.

Rivers General Manager Bill Keena said the Pittsburgh sportsbook opened only 43 days after PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved plans. The sportsbook eventually will move to a larger area in what is now the Levels bar in the center of the casino.

Keena and PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach said online sports betting will be available in the first or second quarter of 2019. Harbach said casinos could offer online sports betting even before they launch Internet casino gaming.

Rivers will embrace the Pittsburgh sports scene

The launch at Rivers coincides with a must-win home game for the Steelers that will be nationally televised and draw more than 65,000 to the stadium within walking distance of the casino. Keena said the casino has plans in place to accommodate a sudden influx.

“I’ve never seen a city with people who have so much love for their teams,” said Keena, who has lived in Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Mo. “This is unique. It’s a love affair with the teams.

“There’s going to be a pent-up demand (for sports betting).”

Rivers is starting with some prop bets and basic options including parlays, moneyline wagers, and over-under scores.

“As we learn a little bit, you’ll see a lot more added,” Keena said. “We’re going to ease our way into the proposition bets. We want to be a full-service casino and (sports betting) is a piece that’s been missing.”

What is sports betting’s revenue role?

Keena said he expects sports-betting to become a “very important” source of revenue, although he wouldn’t predict how much it would contribute. Each Pennsylvania casino planning to offer sports betting paid a licensing fee of $10 million. Additionally, each property will turn over 36 percent of gross revenue to the state. That’s the highest rate in the country so far.

“The margins are going to be very slim because of the tax,” Keena said. “We are going to probably rely on getting extra slot revenue, table game revenue, and food and beverage revenue because the (sports-betting) margins simply aren’t going to be there because of the tax.”

Pennsylvania joins Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Rhode Island in offering legal sportsbooks. Analysts expect more states to regulate sports-betting in the next few years.

A big challenge for new sportsbooks in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is attracting customers from established offshore websites or hometown bookies. For example, Campagna said the site he uses has offered $500 in free bets because of the increased legal offerings.

Keena is confident legal sportsbooks will succeed.

“Customers certainly want (sports betting),” he said. “Human nature is that people want to do the right thing and do it legally.”

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Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze of suburban Pittsburgh, a skilled recreational gambler for more than 35 years, covers casinos and gaming from a player’s perspective. He is a retired journalist and wrote the Player's Advantage gambling column for seven years.

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