Billions bet on Super Bowl, including first legal wagers in Pennsylvania |

Billions bet on Super Bowl, including first legal wagers in Pennsylvania

Jamie Martines
People look on at a display of various sports games near the Rivers Sportsbook inside Rivers Casino on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.
Nate smallwood | Tribune-Review People line up Thursday to place bets on sports games at the Rivers Sportsbook at Rivers Casino.
People place on at a display of various sports games at the Rivers Sportsbook inside Rivers Casino on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.

Gregory Smith wanted to check out the new Rivers Casino sportsbook and place a small Super Bowl bet.

He decided against a straight-up bet on the game, instead putting down $10 on Los Angeles Rams running back C.J. Anderson to score the first touchdown. Quirky Super Bowl “prop bets” are part of the fun.

“Normally, I wouldn’t have an interest either way on who wins,” Smith, 39, of Millvale said Thursday. “But since I placed the bet — something to root for.”

About $6 billion is expected to be wagered on Super Bowl LIII — with some of that action, albeit a small fraction, to come from Western Pennsylvania’s only legal sportsbook at Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

“Building up to Super Bowl weekend, the response from people who want to wager on the game is already pretty significant,” said Andre Barnabei, Rivers’ vice president of slot operations.

The American Gaming Association estimates about 23 million people will wager $6 billion on Sunday’s championship featuring the Rams and New England Patriots. In previous years, the industry trade group estimated the Super Bowl would draw about $4.5 billion in illegal bets along with $138.5 million in legal wagers.

This is the first year sports fans can legally bet on the Super Bowl in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Supreme Court in May struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling in most states. Eight states are now in on the action, including Pennsylvania neighbors West Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.

Rivers was one of three facilities in the state to get a sportsbook up and running in 2018. Three other casinos in Pennsylvania opened sportsbooks in January.

In Nevada, where sports betting has been legal for decades, sportsbooks took $159 million in bets on the 2018 Super Bowl, according to PlayUSA, a sports betting news site.

PlayUSA predicts that Americans will wager about $325 million on the Super Bowl at legal sportbooks across the country, with about a third of those bets coming from sportsbooks in New Jersey.

“This is the biggest betting event in the U.S. for sure,” said Dustin Gouker, an analyst for PlayUSA.

Turnout for the big game could tell us a little bit more about how excited people are to participate in legal sports betting moving forward, he said. The best metric anyone has for gauging that interest is looking at the handle — the total amount wagered by bettors — for Super Bowl-related bets, Gouker said.

“It’s changing literally every minute,” Barnabei told the Tribune-Review on Friday.

Barnabei wasn’t able to say how much had been wagered on the Super Bowl so far. But he was able to share that one of the most popular bets has been on Penn Hills native and Pitt All-American player Aaron Donald, who now plays for the Rams, to win the MVP award.

“That opened up at 25 to 1, and went down to 14 to 1, which means a lot of people are hammering that bet,” Barnabei said.

Customers in December wagered a combined $16.2 million through sportsbooks at Rivers, SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Hollywood Casino, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

On Sunday, Rivers expects at least 1,000 people to come watch — and perhaps bet on — the game.

The Pittsburgh casino has accepted $5.6 million in bets and earned more than $1 million through losing bets since it opened its sportsbook on Dec. 13, offering bets on football, baseball, hockey, boxing and basketball. Bets on horse racing are not offered.

“It was stunning, the amount of people that got engaged,” Barnabei said.

Barnabei had another metric for measuring how many Pittsburgh sports fans wanted to watch and bet on games at the casino’s sportsbook, which includes 15 televisions displaying games and betting lines, along with sofa and table seating for more than 50 people.

“The number of hot dogs we sold on a hot dog cart was unbelievable,” he said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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