Place your bets: Rivers Casino opens Pittsburgh’s first legal sports book
Step right up and place your bets. Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh’s North Shore is now offering sports wagering.
The sports book went live Thursday as five casino visitors from the Pittsburgh area cast the first official bets.
David Eldridge was first in line. He bet $10,000 on the New England Patriots, which play the Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday.
“It was cool to get offered to do the first bet,” said Eldridge, a 38-year-old entrepreneur from Gibsonia who insists he’s a Steelers fan despite putting his money on the Patriots.
The sports book open to the public for a testing period Thursday from 2 p.m. to midnight and will be open Friday from noon to 10 p.m.
Rivers is waiting on a green light from the state to set a regular schedule of operations. The casino plans plans to have its sports book open Saturday from 9 to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight.
Football, baseball, hockey, boxing and basketball bets are all available. Bets on horse racing are not offered.
Jon Miller, 38, of Cranberry, was one of at least two dozen people who lined up before 2 p.m. Thursday to be among the first to cast legal sports bets in Pittsburgh.
“I wanted to see how it’s set up,” Miller said.
He planned to put money on the L.A. Chargers game Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs. If everything goes smoothly, Miller said he could see himself coming down to the casino to place bets in the future.
Pennsylvania has had a law on the books allowing sports betting since October 2017 — over six months before the U.S. Supreme Court in May struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling in most states.
Sports books in the Keystone State finally went live in November, making Pennsylvania the seventh state to allow sports betting. Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course near Hershey was the first of Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos and race tracks to start taking bets.
SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia also held a test run this week. Parx Casino, also in Philadelphia, is expected to launch its sports book soon.
Whether the addition of sports books at Pennsylvania casinos will result in a big pay day for casinos — and ultimately, tax revenue for the state — remains to be seen. Some experts have suggested that the state’s $10 million operator license fee paid by casinos that want to host a sports book, along with a 36 percent state tax on gross gaming revenue, might be too high to attract operators to the market.
Nevada, in comparison, imposes up to 6.75 percent state tax on gross gaming revenues. In West Virginia, the licensing fee is $100,000 followed by a 10 percent tax on revenue.
Pennsylvania’s tax structure will likely limit the casino’s revenue, said Bill Keena, general manager of Rivers Casino.
Amenities offered alongside the sports book — like the bars, restaurants, slots and table games available just steps away from the betting counters at Rivers — are where Keena hopes to see an additional revenue bump, he said.
“The big unknown is, we don’t know how much pent-up demand there is,” Keena said.
Rivers will have a chance to test that demand Sunday as thousands of fans flood nearby Heinz Field for the Steelers-Patriots game.
“We’re anticipating big lines,” he said, adding that employees will be on hand to walk visitors through the process of placing their first bets. The sports book at Rivers is operated by casino employees, though betting lines are provided by the sports book Kambi, Keena said.
The casino already has plans to expand the sports book operation. The current setup — which currently boasts 15 televisions displaying games and betting lines, along with sofa and table seating for over 50 visitors — is likely to be moved from the outskirts of the gaming floor to the center of the casino by September 2019, Keena said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.