When Paul Martino and partner Stephen Starr devised Bankroll, they envisioned a luxury sports bar and meeting spot where patrons would cheer on their Philadelphia favorites playing just a few miles away. Their language might be the same as expected at the corner bar. But the food would be exquisite.
That’s still the case. And the Eagles should still be packing Lincoln Financial Field when the doors at Bankroll’s locale open at 1910 Chestnut Street in Center City early next year.
But it sure would have made for a grand opening at the home of the former Boyd Theatre had it been ready for an unexpected Phillies run to the World Series five miles down I-76 at Citizens Bank Park.
“Oh my God. I was literally on-site about an hour before this phone call,” Martino said in an interview with Gaming Today, “and obviously we are big Phillies and Eagles fans here, but we’ll be open in time for NFL Playoffs, so we’re going to get the Eagles run ready to go.”
Martino, the general partner and co-founder of Bullpen Capital, has a portfolio chocked with gambling and tech patents and businesses. He was an early FanDuel investor in 2014. And he’s part of a rethink on how sports betting can be mainstreamed as sports entertainment.
“I think that the intersection of live entertainment and sports and gaming is where the puck is going,” said Martino, who’s presumably a Flyers fan, too. “And I think increasingly when you look at something like a Topgolf, the way that reinvented what it was like to go to the driving range, that’s what we’re trying to do here at Bankroll.
“Going into a seedy backroom and cigars and sports betting lines is just not the way that the modern consumer wants to watch sports and bet on games.”
STARR Restaurants will partner in the project, which will feature a seated restaurant and rentable living rooms downstairs and a full bar upstairs of over 18,500 square feet. It’ll accommodate 350-400, but they won’t find betting kiosks or windows. In Pennsylvania, the phone does the job. And that’s part of the point.
“Luxury experiences, younger crowds make the game more exciting,” Martino said. “I think if we’re right about Bankroll, people ask themselves, ‘When are you coming to my city?'”
Bankroll Part of New Push for Group Gaming Experience
Bankroll might not make it to their city. But some local bar or restaurant will likely be making their own attempt at the formula.
Even though as much as 90% of legal sports bets are placed online or through mobile in the United States, gaming companies and restaurants have coalesced in a post-COVID society around the thought that humans enjoy a communal experience no matter if they’re just sitting there playing on their phones.
Said Simon Fraser, Senior Vice President of International, 1/ST Technology: “Betting is a social event. And it happens in sports bars and yes, on mobile and so on, but there is an opportunity to grab people retail-wise and to get them together, to have that social kind of feeling about it.”
Key for these places and Bankroll alike is they won’t be sportsbooks and therefore won’t need gambling licenses. Sports betting in Pennsylvania is available through numerous mobile platforms.
Martino was heartened that a friend at the gambling-forward NBA liked his project.
“The NBA was my co-investor in FanDuel, and we’ve been very close with the NBA for many, many years,” Martino explained. “And one of my friends over there during the 2020 presidential debate, he called me up during the debate. He says, ‘Martino, how much fun is it going to be to watch the 2024 presidential debate at Bankroll?’
“And that just made me smile. Because I’m like, look, this is a guy at the NBA who really gets what Bankroll’s about.
“It’s about being with your team. It’s about talking smack to the other team. It’s about rooting for your guy. And you know what? It might be who gets knocked out next on the Bachelorette? It might be who’s going to the next president. And it certainly could be about the next play’s a pass or punt.”
And if it’s a Jalen Hurts pass, it better be a good one. Because even Philadelphia fans in extremely comfortable chairs are going to have strong opinions.
“Philly people only yell nice things,” Martino laughed. “That’s definitely what we’re known for.”