Mobile sports betting apps have launched in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania sports bettors can now place their bets via their online casino app on their mobile device. Everyone agrees that online betting in PA still has some glitches to overcome but the state has taken a big step in making sports betting more accessible to more people.

Currently, the biggest issue facing mobile bettors is that bettors cannot legally place a wager from an iPad or an iPhone. This makes the app inaccessible to approximately 50% of mobile users. The problem is due to a new Apple App Store policy that states that the Apple Store won’t support online gaming apps that aren’t coded natively for iOS. Apple also insists that such apps not involve a port of an HTML web app.

The three legal online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania, Bet Rivers, Parx and SugarHouse are not yet compliant with the policy. Android users can download the app directly from the operators’ sites, so even though the Google Play Store doesn’t allow gambling apps, Android users can access the online sportsbooks.

A fourth sportsbook, FanDuel, which is owned by BetFair and partnered with Valley Forge Casino Resort, is expected to be live on iOS when it launches. For this reason it’s expected to take the lead in Pennsylvania, especially once football season starts. Unibet, previously known as BetStars, is also expected to open a sportsbook in Pennsylvania.

Stadiums

As the sportsbooks prepare for the NFL season, they are using the summer baseball games as a testing ground for live sports betting and Pennsylvania MBL stadiums are ground zero to test the new live betting apps. Citizens Bank Park and PNC Park in Pittsburgh are the first Major League Baseball stadiums in the United States to enable legal wagering.

There has been sports betting in the state in the past via phone apps and offshore bookmakers – observers are watching to see which percentage of the market these older apps retain.

Getting Started

The SugarHouse (land-based) Casino & Sportsbook was the first sportsbook to launch legal mobile sports betting in Pennsylvania. After their May 31 launch, Rivers Casino got their own app up and running.  Parx opened its mobile sports betting app on June. All three sportsbooks are contending with logistical problems on the multiple platforms, most notably with the lack of an iOS App store option.

The apps are still new and unfamiliar and fans have been slow to embrace the option. According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, "I think what you try to do is build in limitations around what the clubs can do so that mobile activity that is going to go on in the stadium doesn’t become all-pervasive. We’re a family entertainment product.”

Manfred is still skeptical but that’s a step forward from his predecessor’s view of sports gambling.  Bud Selig, former MBL Commissioner, called sports betting “evil” and said that it “creates doubt and destroys your sport.”

Acceptance

MLB announced a gaming partnership with MGM Resorts International last autumn. Within the MBA leadership, support for sports betting has been unanimous, especially among the owners.

Manfred said, “They've all embraced this. They all see the opportunity to enhance the sport and we haven't had any resistance from them at the league at this point. From the commissioner on down, I'd say we all see the opportunities, both to increase revenue and engagement in a way where we're protecting the integrity of the sport at the same time. So, we'll move carefully and methodically, but there's been no pushback.”

Texas Rangers Marketing and Chief Revenue Officer Joe Januszewski agreed. He acknowledged that the moderation of opinions regarding legalized gambling in in conservative regions has been “incremental” in the baseball culture and noted that, even in Texas, a state with restrictive gaming laws and just two casinos, pro sports teams were able to successfully lobby legislators to offer “50-50 lotteries” during games.

Januszewski  explained, “It's a raffle. But it is a form of betting, so I feel like there's been a thawing, perhaps, with what we're allowed to do. But again, it's not exponential and I think it'll continue that way”.

Januszewski tried to summarize where the leagues stand regarding sports betting. “I would say the NHL is probably further down the road than (MLB). But we brought in fantasy gaming a few years ago, official partnership with DraftKings and Major League Baseball. So that was a league-wide endorsement of fantasy. There's obviously a skill component to it, so there's nuance to how you parse the categories, but I feel like we're making a slow and steady gains and we'll just adapt.”

Integrity

The issue of integrity has always been a crucial subject in regards to sports betting. Past history confirms that sports betting can result in thrown games and other issues in which a fair game isn’t assured. Many sports analysts, however, believe that a scandal is unlikely, They note that the safeguards that have been implemented should be enough to prevent any type of exploitation by managers, umpires or players.

According to Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research,  the key would be for the league and ownership to be proactive. “I do think that players’ salaries are high enough now that it would be very difficult to bribe a player, a Major League player, especially a star player, with enough to make it worth their while. I think you'd have a very difficult time raising up enough money to bribe Clayton Kershaw to throw a game, let alone a World Series game…but this is still something that baseball and every other sports league should take seriously. Because it can really damage the credibility of the game if anything were to happen.”

MBL and Live Betting

The leagues, in general, are not enthralled with the idea of live betting.

NBA’s Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Dan Spillane characterized kiosks and betting parlors at stadiums as a by-product of the new sports betting culture. Commissioner Manfred, however, feels that “if you have mobile betting available, it reduces the pressure you might otherwise get to have kiosks or betting parlors or whatever. If somebody’s doing it on their phone, you don’t know if they’re looking at their Facebook page or making a bet, and that may be a good thing.” 

To date, the only ballparks where legalized betting is available is in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and in the London Stadium in England, where the Yankees and the Red Sox played last week. The next frontier for baseball sports betting may very well be in Chicago, though officials believe that it might be 18 months or more until the infrastructure is in place in Illinois for mobile betting.

 

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