There’s no denying that Philadelphia sports fans are a passionate bunch. And they usually don’t need to have a bet on a given game to express that passion.
But with sports betting legal in Pennsylvania, Philly fans can have a wager when they go to Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park and the Wells Fargo Center. Or even if they want to watch from the comfort of their living room.
Jim Llewellyn’s job is to make sure when the bettors come to SugarHouse Casino’s sportsbook they feel like they’re at home. A South Jersey native, Llewellyn, 58, knows his customer base because essentially, he’s one of them.
“I bleed green,” he said of his rooting for the Eagles. “I grew up following all the Philly teams.
“One of my greatest (sports) memories was being there when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980. I can still see the ball pop out of Bob Boone’s mitt and have Pete Rose catch it.”
Unlike his Eagles, who had a nice win at Green Bay last week, Llewellyn didn’t fare as well in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest. At 25-38, he’s got some catching up to do to get back in the hunt.
The good news for him and the other contestants who are slow starters is it’s still early.
Llewellyn may be a sports nut, but his career in the casino industry centered around slot machines and slot technology. He worked at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and he has seen the amazing technological growth of slots over the decades.
But when his boss at SugarHouse informed him that the casino was getting into the sports betting business and asked if he wanted to be part of it, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
He should have been careful what he wished for.
“We had 42 days to be up and running,” he said of the start-up at SugarHouse. “That meant everything — building the sportsbook, hiring the staff, getting all the regulations in order. It was a tight window, but we got it done.
“There were a lot of people who were assigned small tasks and together, we managed to make it all work. I’m very proud of that.”
The current 2,400 square-foot book which has 18 kiosks, will give way to a bigger 5,500 square-foot area, nearly double the size. The new book will also have a long bar area where bettors can watch the games.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” he said. “We were scrambling to be open late last year and that was important. But we have taken our time and we’re looking forward to having a bigger room for our customers.”
SugarHouse finds itself in a very competitive environment. Parx in Bensalem has launched its sportsbook. New Jersey has books in Atlantic City and there are books in Delaware. Llewellyn said he has put a premium on good customer service at SugarHouse.
“Everyone wants to have good customer service,” he said. “For us, it’s very important because we have a lot of regular customers who we don’t want to the for granted and at the same time, we want to treat people who are new to sports betting with respect and help them feel comfortable.”
The sportsbook has helped drive traffic to the casino overall. Customers are staying to gamble elsewhere on the property, eat at the restaurants or have a cocktail at one of the bars.
“It’s been a tremendous addition,” Llewellyn said of the sportsbook. “People get to experience everything the casino has to offer.”
Because the Philly sportsbook is part of a network that includes Pittsburgh and Schenectady, N.Y., Llewellyn doesn’t have the luxury of adjusting the lines who it comes to the home teams. So if the Eagles are -6.5 against whoever they’re playing, he can’t make it -7 or -7.5 if the money is coming in on the Eagles.
“We went through that in the playoffs last year when they played the Bears,” he said. “We couldn’t adjust the number (+6.5) and everyone bet the Eagles. We took a beating on the game and it took us a while to recover. But it was great publicity for the book and the property.”
Philly beat Chicago straight up, 16-15, to advance to the divisional round where they lost to New Orleans, 20-14, but covered as 9-point underdogs.
But occupational hazards aside, things have gone well for Llewellyn and SugarHouse.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” he said. “It kind of brings me back to the beginning of my career when I was in Atlantic City and things were just starting to take off there. People in Philly love their sports and I think (betting) is only going to get bigger.”