Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino officially opened its sportsbook Dec. 15.
Executives, local politicians and players ushered in the temporary location near the Frankford Avenue entrance.
The casino opened the first sportsbook in Philadelphia in short order, following approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Halloween this year. The location successfully tested for two days, taking live action before the grand opening celebration.
Expectations are high for SugarHouse Casino, which has done well since opening a few years ago in the revived Fishtown neighborhood along Delaware Avenue.
Along with their counterpart Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which opened at the same time Saturday, they are the first two sportsbooks located in major sports cities outside of Las Vegas.
“We’re thrilled to make Philly history as the city’s first licensed sportsbook,” said Cheryl Duhon, general manager of SugarHouse Casino. “If our soft launch was any indication, there’s a big demand among Philly sports fans and gamers to get in on the action.”
Pennsylvania is the latest state to get sports betting running since the US Supreme Court opened the floodgates in May 2018. The court’s historic decision repealed a federal ban on state-authorized sports betting.
Location, location, location
One of the major advantages SugarHouse has is the experience pulled from their online sportsbook that’s been operating in New Jersey since mid-August.
Gaming partner Kambi is also working with the retail site and were on hand to help with operations at the cashier booths and kiosks. The pricing online is the same as the physical book, which means shorter vigs on NFL spreads and totals for players on gameday.
Jaleel Reed waited in line to bet before the noon start of college basketball Saturday. The Philadelphia resident wanted to get the Maine Black Bears on the moneyline in their FCS semifinal game against Eastern Washington.
Reed said he’s played in Vegas and Delaware and is excited the action is now in his backyard. “I plan to live here,” he said about the possibilities with the expansion. “I plan to come here every weekend, every day if I can.”
Many bettors in attendance had previously played in Delaware, a shorter and toll-free drive down I-95 from Philly, compared to Atlantic City. The central location on Delaware Avenue, close to mass transit and the highway has a big advantage beating rivals like Parx Casino to the starting line.
TVs, affordable beer towers and more
With the market in New Jersey heavily tilted toward online betting, physical locations have to provide a superior experience to attract and retain customers.
SugarHouse delivers with a spread of TVs, which allow players to follow multiple games at once. While the lines were consistent to the tellers and kiosks, they moved during the morning as players lined up their plays. SugarHouse allows parlays up to 12 legs.
While the sportsbook stays open until midnight during the week and until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, players can cash tickets at the cash cages at all hours. This is helpful when a local game ends after 1 a.m.
SugarHouse attracted excellent food vendors to provide an all-inclusive experience for its players. For fans who want to sit in for games, tableside ordering is available with a simple text.
The prices are comparable to what’s offered at the crowded sports bars in Philly and are cheaper than the stadiums.
Do you want a beer tower and Geno’s cheesesteaks for the early slate of games? You got it!
Little hoopla on the first day
Saturday saw executives interacting with customers, explaining options and helping with the kiosks. Overall, it helped the bettors from souring too much. Officials hope to add more kiosks to facilitate betting by next week.
Overall, the SugarHouse Sportsbook opening reflected the market: Substance with some swag. There weren’t any big celebrities or Gritty to welcome them.
Councilman Mark Squilla (D-District 1) made the first ceremonial bet with $20 on the Philadephia Eagles getting 13 against the LA Rams (at -113). There was little hoopla as fans studied the offerings and put together their tickets.
Mostly, the room was quiet once games started, minus a few cheers during the Villanova-Kansas game.
SugarHouse may have some time alone in the sun. Greenwood Gaming plans to open the book at Parx Casino before expanding to the Turf Club in South Philly near the stadiums.
Harrah’s, in Chester, and Valley Forge Casino haven’t announced launch dates yet. Duhon said the permanent sportsbook is slated to open during “Q2 next year,” although she thinks the centralized location could open sooner.