For seven months after the Rivers Casino opened its sportsbook on Pittsburgh’s North Shore in December, it was the only place to make a legal wager on a game in Western Pennsylvania.
While it eventually added an online BetRivers site that remains the only one based west of the Alleghenies for Web/app sports betting, the casino’s bricks-and-mortar monopoly ended July 24. Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie County launched its sportsbook that day under the BetAmerica brand of owner Churchill Downs Inc.
And now, a new, stronger, closer rival is on the horizon: the Meadows Racetrack & Casino located 25 miles south of Pittsburgh.
After a lengthy delay — and uncertainty over whether to even pursue the $10 million sports betting license as the rest of the state’s casinos its size jumped in — the Meadows has its sportsbook under construction. It could get licensing approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board at its Oct. 2 meeting and be ready to start a test phase soon thereafter.
Tony Frabbiele, who became the Washington County casino’s general manager in January after its acquisition by Penn National Gaming, said the retail sportsbook will rely on Kambi for its odds. Kambi, the European-based firm that is making huge inroads in the U.S., particularly Pennsylvania, already is the supplier for Rivers, SugarHouse, and Parx and recently announced a large national partnership with PNG.
DraftKings coming to Pennsylvania
The big news for sharp bettors looking for additional competition on lines is that DraftKings will be handling the online Meadows site, which Frabbiele expects will begin operating simultaneously to the casino’s physical sportsbook.
DraftKings, which is awaiting its own Pennsylvania licensing as a sports wagering operator, will control its site odds and options independently of the Meadows sportsbook and Kambi, Frabbiele said. Ostensibly, that means someone could shop between the Meadows casino and online site for different odds, in addition to comparing them to Pennsylvania’s other sites.
“The DraftKings component is solely online,” Frabbiele said. “You could look it as the same as how the FanDuel site is ‘FanDuel powered by Valley Forge.’ Ours will be ‘DraftKings powered by Meadows Racetrack & Casino.’ The bricks-and-mortar side will be run by our own team, partnering with Kambi.”
The Meadows GM said he could not predict just when the casino’s sports betting will begin, though he certainly hopes for it during football season.
It took a while after Penn National’s purchase of the casino before the commitment was made to sports wagering, with the license application only submitted in early July. Frabbiele said the company spent time analyzing the impact of the sportsbooks at both the Rivers and at Penn National’s Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg.
The retail sportsbook at the Rivers is the busiest in the state, having handled $4.4 million in wagers in July.
Hollywood, a smaller casino overall that doesn’t benefit from the same proximity to professional sports teams and fans as the Rivers, took $1.8 million in sports wagers in July. It has not yet started an online operation, which is expected in the coming months.
Beyond the ’Burgh
The Meadows is a half-hour drive from Heinz Field and PNC Park, which are both within walking distance of the Rivers, but Frabbiele doesn’t necessarily consider that to his sportsbook’s detriment.
“It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage,” he said. “If you don’t want to sit in two hours of traffic [getting to games and the casino in Pittsburgh on game days], come see me, and you also don’t pay upwards of $60 for parking [as the Rivers charges Steelers fans]. Your parking is free here. If you’re a customer who wants to get away from all that and watch the game and enjoy the excitement of it, the Meadows will have that.”
Frabbiele said the sportsbook is an important part of an overall update of the casino, for which $14 million is being spent on physical renovations in addition to the $10 million license. The Meadows is fourth in the state in slots revenue and ninth in table games revenue, and he acknowledged it could be missing out on customers by omitting a sportsbook.
“It’s an amenity that introduces your business to customers who might not otherwise be there. It’s a different demographic that tends to be a younger customer than your average,” he said. “There’s energy and excitement that comes along with it, too,” especially coinciding with major events such as the Super Bowl and March Madness.
The sportsbook will have a staff of 15, with 11 already hired and going through training, Frabbiele said. They will take over space that had served as the Meadows’ most prominent bar, the Vibe lounge. It will have 17 TVs, and 18 betting kiosks will be spaced around the property.
At the same time, the Meadows is reconstructing its food court — using restaurants created by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani — and renovating its Headliners lounge for live entertainment, including the addition of 100 seats. It has also taken out 490 slot machines considered outdated, while retaining more than 2,500.
It’s all part of a widespread “freshening” of the casino that Frabbiele said was overdue and will position it far better for the future. And fortunately for sports fans, that future will finally include sports betting as well.