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When Gov. Tom Wolf ordered casinos closed in Pennsylvania on Dec. 12 as the next wave of the coronavirus raged throughout the state, the sportsbooks collectively nodded, said, O.K., and went about their business.

Thanks to mobile betting, business has remained steady in the Keystone State. More than 80% of wagers in Pennsylvania are made through mobile devices and that has minimized the impact on the industry in the state.

“We are thrilled to offer players in Pennsylvania the opportunity to wager on a broad range of exciting sports betting options from the convenience and comfort of their own homes,” said Rush Street Interactive president Richard Schwartz. “Players certainly have responded enthusiastically making RSI the leading online gaming operator statewide under  our and brands.”

This is a huge time of the year for all sportsbooks. The NFL is headed toward its postseason and the Super Bowl is five weeks away. It’s college bowl season with the national semifinals set for Thursday and the championship on Jan. 11. The NBA opened last week and the NHL starts Jan. 13. College basketball, chaotic as it is, is well underway.

So imagine what would have happened if there was no mobile betting and everything was limited to retail sportsbooks?

Last month, the state booked $491.9 million in wagers, which was down 6.4% from October’s take of $525 million. But we’re still talking over $1 billion in bets over the two months in the commonwealth. And when you factor in the pandemic and reduced numbers overall in casinos, the drop-off isn’t that bad.

How important is mobile during a pandemic? Last month, 91% of all sports bets made in the commonwealth were via mobile. The retail operations took in $44.4 million, an indication of restrictions in the casinos and also the ease by which a bettor can open an account and be able to fund it without stepping foot onto a property.

“Business has been fantastic for us in Pennsylvania,” said DraftKings’ Johnny Avello. “Our digital is going gangbusters.

“DraftKings also has a digital casino on our app, so you can gamble without stepping foot in a casino. Digital is the future of gambling and we’re seeing that during the pandemic.”

In addition, the companies offer signup bonuses and it’s very competitive between DraftKings, FanDuel, Bet­Rivers, SugarHouse, Parx, BetAmerica, Barstool and now, BetMGM, which was approved last week to do business in Pennsylvania and will be very aggressive in marketing its brand.

When the December numbers come out next month, you can expect a more lopsided ratio, similar to that in June when the casinos were still closed and mobile accounted for 100% of the wagering on sports in Pennsylvania.

The casinos may reopen next Monday, pending the status of the state’s COVID-19 situation. But even if Wolf keeps the locks on the doors, the sportsbooks will continue to operate, and flourish, thanks to smartphones and other devices for customers to click on to their mobile accounts.

“For the sportsbook operation and the casino overall, the health and safety of team members, guests, and the community is the top priority.” said Jim Llewellyn, the sportsbook manager for Rivers Casino Philadelphia. “The retail sportsbook and the casino overall will reopen when state and local officials determine that it’s safe to do so.” 

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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