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Place your bets: Rivers Casino opens Pittsburgh's first legal sports book

Jamie Martines
| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, 5:54 p.m.

David Eldridge laid down the first sports bet at Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino on Thursday: $10,000 on the New England Patriots against his hometown Steelers.

“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 Steelers host New England on Sunday.

He was first in line at the North Shore casino as its sports book went live Thursday.

The sports book opened for a testing period and will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Friday.

Rivers is waiting on a green light from the state to set a regular schedule of operations. The casino plans to have its sports book open Saturday and Sunday. Hours of operation beyond that have not been determined.

Football, baseball, hockey, boxing and basketball bets are 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. 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 Los Angeles Chargers in their game Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs. If everything goes smoothly, Miller said he could see himself visiting the casino to place future bets.

Pennsylvania has had a law on the books allowing sports betting since October 2017 — 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 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 sports 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 payday 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 boasts 15 televisions displaying games and betting lines, along with sofa and table seating for more than 50 visitors — is likely to be moved from the outskirts of the gaming floor to the center of the casino by September, Keena said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, jmartines@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

This Oct 25, 2018 photo shows the odds board at the sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gamblers bet $260 million on sports in New Jersey in October, bringing the total to nearly $600 million since mid-June. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This Oct 25, 2018 photo shows the odds board at the sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gamblers bet $260 million on sports in New Jersey in October, bringing the total to nearly $600 million since mid-June. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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