On Tuesday, the Keystone State’s first legal and regulated online sports betting platform launched.
Play SugarHouse, also a New Jersey-licensed platform, began testing its ring-fenced Pennsylvania sports betting product at around 4 p.m. Tuesday. Rumors of a May launch had persisted for weeks, with some speculation that the app might not launch until June, when a platform from Parx Casino is expected to kick off.
Other PA-sanctioned sportsbooks are expected to roll out their respective online/mobile offerings in the coming months. Expect several operators to seek a launch before the NFL/college football season.
The first brick-and-mortar sportsbook in the state was at Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino. There are eight b&m PA sportsbooks, and now one online/mobile offering.
Play SugarHouse comes from the SugarHouse Casino located in Philadelphia. The property opened its brick-and-mortar sportsbook on Dec. 13, 2018. SugarHouse’s sister property, the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, is expected to launch its branded online sportsbook in the coming days, likely to be the second app to hit the market. Rivers also opened its retail sportsbook on Dec. 13. Both properties are owned by Rush Street Gaming, based out of Chicago.
The app isn’t yet available on Apple iOS. It is available on Android devices. In addition to the app, sports bettors can wager online via pa.playsugarhouse.com.
There were rumors that the issues with the App Store might have caused a delay for Play SugarHouse. It’s unclear if that played any role, as the platform ended up launching without iOS being available.
In order to get out in front of the online launch and get customers comfortable with the online offering, SugarHouse has for several months offered a QuickBets “bet builder” app.
Despite being in testing mode, Play SugarHouse is equipped with the standard regulated-book features. Bettors familiar with the NJ site/platform will find lines that are about the same, despite PA’s substantially higher tax rate on operator revenue. The Kambi Group powers both online platforms. Time will tell how the PA and NJ offerings diverge in terms of the value that the betting community seeks.
Here are some of the nuances I have discovered about @PlaySugarHouse sportsbook in #Pennsylvania.
1) You can quick register if you have an existing NJ account
2) Lines are roughly or exactly the same as NJ site
3) Welcome bonus 100% match up to $250 is the same
— Robert DellaFave (@RobertDellaFave) May 28, 2019
Since NJ launched online/mobile sports betting last year, it’s been common for folks near the PA-NJ line to cross over into the Garden State to make bets. Because of the ring-fenced nature of online gambling, you can’t access your Play SugarHouse NJ account from PA, but the platform has made the process about as smooth as possible for existing NJ customers.
You can register remotely in PA. In fact, you can register for a Play SugarHouse account anywhere in the U.S., according to the sportsbook’s website.
The soft-play period is expected to last until Friday. Soft play is when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board can test the technology of the platform, including geolocation and player identity verification.
The soft-play period has limited hours:
- Tuesday, May 28: 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
- Wednesday, May 29: 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.
- Thursday, May 30: 12 p.m to 12 a.m.
- Friday, June 1: Possibly 24/7
Bettors can deposit into their online accounts via the SugarHouse casino cage, as well as with Discover, Visa, and Mastercard. The options are relatively limited, compared to NJ, where customers can also use the likes of PayPal and bank transfers. PA deposit/withdraw options will improve with time.
In neighboring NJ, Play SugarHouse operates under the Golden Nugget license, as Rush Street doesn’t have a casino in Atlantic City.
PA launches problem gaming tool
Ahead of the launch of the first online/mobile sportsbook, the PGCB announced a new tool to help problem gamblers. Play SugarHouse is equipped with the standard problem gambling messaging (“Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER”), but PA wants more.
The PGCB on Tuesday announced the iGaming Self-Exclusion Program, which will allow people to choose a one-year, five-year, or lifetime ban for online sports wagering.
The brick-and-mortar program has resulted in “thousands” of self-exclusions, the PGCB said.
All online sportsbooks must refuse wagers to persons on the list. They also can’t be sent promotional or marketing material, regulators said.
For Play SugarHouse in PA, some of those promotional opportunities that should become available in the coming days or weeks include refer-a-friend bonuses and nightly “boosts” on odds for certain bets, as well as full or partial refunds, awarded as a 1x bonus, on losing wagers.
The company also has a iRush Rewards loyalty program.