Pennsylvania’s March Sports Betting: Amid the Pandemic

Pennsylvania’s March Sports Betting: Amid the Pandemic


Having a huge impact on every aspect of live including the shutdown of major sport leagues, the Coronavirus is taking its toll on sports betting in Pennsylvania.  Signing into law in 2017 the state’s gambling bill, Pennsylvania launched in 2018 its first online sports-betting app, in addition to additional legal, online gambling apps and websites that offer poker and casino.

Although a very strong start with operators rushing into Pennsylvania to get their licence to operate their sports-betting apps and other gambling apps in the state, the COVID-19 took a serious toll on the young-and-coming sports-betting market in the state. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf had the state go into lockdown in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.  Like at other states, Pennsylvania’s economy has been hit hard, and unemployment went up to 6%, which is a climb of almost 50% year-on-year from 4.1% in March 2019.  When asked about returning to routine, Wolf asserted that he is expecting a slow and lengthy process: “Unfortunately, we cannot flip a switch and reopen…There’s not going to be one big day,” said the governor to reporters.

With no one big relaunch to the economy, but rather a phased sector-by-sector rollout, Wolf and other public officials are looking for other stimulates and aid to Pennsylvania’s economy.  This led to Senate Bill 1117 that was drafted by Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano.  Whilst sports-betting revenues are usually put in the General Fund, the bill will take sports-betting profits and allocate them towards property-tax relief.  But many wonder how effective will this measure be, with the sports-betting industry also taking a major hit like the rest of the economy.

One of the biggest sports events of the year NCAA’s March Madness cancelled, the NFL being off season and all other major sports leagues being suspended, there is very little left for the US punter to bet on.  There’s also little consolation from other major sports leagues around the world that would otherwise be attractive for Americans to place bets on.  Namely, major European soccer and competitions that have also been put on hold for now.  

Pennsylvania’s handle from sports-betting in March was $131.3 million, which is a 60% drop from a strong February handle of $329 million.  With strong tailwind from social distancing and safety concerns, approximately 90% of the bets were placed online, through sports-betting apps or websites, but the dominance of legal online sports-betting apps and websites has been consistent with previous months.  Revenues generated in Pennsylvania’s legal sportsbooks in March was $6.9 million.     

The leader in the state in online revenues by far is the FanDual Sportsbook with $53.6 and $2.7 million in handle and revenues respectively.  Second is DraftKings with $28.6 and 1.4 million.  And in third place for March came SugarHouse/BetRivers whom generated $12 and $0.6 million.

However even though SugarHouse is in distant third, the Rivers Casino company in Pennsylvania owns both SugarHouse and also the state’s fourth-grossing sportsbook BetRivers.  So adding Rivers Philadelphia and Rivers Pittsburgh (ranked third and fourth for March): both generated a total of $20.1 and $11.3 million in handle and revenues respectively.

Another state which led the legal online and mobile sports-betting trend is New Jersey.  The neighbouring state is also facing challenges on the sports-betting front, and releasing figures for March show a handle of $181 million, down from 60% from February.  It was the lowest sports-betting handle in NJ since $95 million in August 2018.   

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