The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board issued a conditional interactive sports wagering manufacturer license to KT Group Limited, the company that made the self-wagering kiosks on which patrons will place their bets at Presque Isle Downs & Casino.
In a non-smoking section on the floor of Presque Isle Downs & Casino, workers from Bauer Specialties stood on a lift and assembled the circular metal frame that will soon form the new sportsbook at the Summit Township facility.
Slot machines that once occupied the 1,275-square foot space are gone, some having been relocated to other areas of the casino and a few others lined one after another just outside the soon-to-be countertop bar.
Newly-installed wall wraps display the BetAmerica brand logo, tease that the sportsbook is “coming soon” and show a trio of football players in generic orange uniforms and helmets in the midst of celebration. The words “Ready. Set. Bet.” appear next to them.
Casino officials are mum on when exactly they’ll start offering sports betting, noting that such decisions will come from parent owner Churchill Downs. Though there remain several steps before the sportsbook can open, including a two-day testing period overseen by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, all indications point to the sportsbook being open “soon,” as the signage inside the casino says.
For example, Bauer Specialties, the Harborcreek Township-based construction company, must complete its construction work by this coming Wednesday, a company official said. They’ve already been on the job for six weeks, hanging large, flatscreen televisions around the casino — televisions that will air live sporting events and serve as odds boards — among other tasks.
And on Wednesday, the Gaming Control Board issued a conditional interactive sports wagering manufacturer license to KT Group Limited, the company that made the self-wagering kiosks on which patrons will place their bets at Presque Isle Downs & Casino. Those kiosks are in boxes on the casino premises.
“KT Group was approved Wednesday so they are good to go in Pennsylvania,” Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey said. “Obviously who they are working with is Presque Isle casino. They’re doing all the cabinet boxes that people would walk up to and do all of their bets for sports wagering on. They were a very important component for what (Presque Isle) is going to be moving forward with.”
McGarvey said the state doesn’t have any timeline of when Presque Isle will go live with sports wagering, adding that “In the end, that’s going to be up to them. They’ll tell us and then we’ll come out and make sure everything is working right.”
It has taken an average of 64 days for the eight casinos now operating sportsbooks in Pennsylvania to launch sports betting from the time they were issued their sports wagering certificate by the state. However, Presque Isle Downs & Casino, which was granted its sports wagering certificate on Feb. 6, still has not opened its sportsbook after 129 days.
Presque Isle has been in a transitionary period, having changed ownership from Eldorado Resorts to Churchill Downs at the start of the year. Casino officials revealed their plans for sports betting at the February meeting of the Gaming Control Board.
The sportsbook is being built adjacent to the poker room and simulcast area of the casino, but the self-wagering kiosks that bets will be placed on will be located throughout the facility: 25 kiosks will be located inside the sportsbook itself, with three each near the north and south entrances, five in the hallway leading to the sportsbook, eight at the casino’s center bar, or Hub, and one at the High Limit bar. A cage will be located just outside the sportsbook area, but there will not be live tellers to accept wagers on sports. All of it is expected to be done electronically.
Churchill Downs operates its sportsbooks and online wagering through its BetAmerica brand. It has partnered with SBTech to operate the sportsbook.
Sports betting will be offered on a range of professional and in some cases college sports, including football, baseball, softball, basketball, hockey, soccer, golf, tennis, boxing, rugby, lacrosse, auto racing, cricket, darts, cycling, rowing and sailing, e-sports, Australian rules football and the Olympics.
Casinos are required to pay a $10 million fee for a sports wagering license within 60 days after approval and before the sportsbook can open.
Presque Isle Downs & Casino’s plans also call for sports betting to be offered on mobile apps and online in the future. Some casinos with active sportsbooks unveiled their online platforms recently.
Jennifer See, director of marketing for Presque Isle Downs & Casino, said she fields calls and emails about the launch of the sportsbook from interested bettors in neighboring Ohio and New York, states that have not yet begun offering sports wagering.
“There’s one guy from Cleveland who’s asking me all the time when it will open,” See said. “He can’t wait.”
Pennsylvania became the seventh and largest state to move toward legal sports betting following the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 14, 2018, decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which forced states outside Nevada to keep sports gambling bans in place. Nevada has allowed sports betting since 1949.
Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Legislature in October 2017, in anticipation of the high court’s ruling, approved a gaming expansion bill that included an amendment to legalize sports wagering for slot machine licensees. It permits any Pennsylvania resident 21 years of age and older to place bets on sporting events at a casino with a sports wagering license.
The state taxes 36 percent of sports gaming revenue, of which 2 percent goes to local governments.
From November through the end of April, more than $162 million had been bet on sporting events, leading to $16.8 million of revenue for the casinos and more than $6 million in tax revenue. Those figures do not include payouts for bets placed on future sporting events.
On Thursday, John Bailey, 66, of Millcreek Township, sat at a glowing “Lotus Land” slot machine with his friend, Karen Kmiecik, of Summit Township.
Bailey reminisced about trips to Las Vegas he used to take and betting on the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era.
“I’m not going to be betting (on sports) a whole bunch, but I will bet a little bit,” he said. “I’ll bet on football. I like the Steelers and the Browns, but the Browns don’t do so good. Maybe by the time they start winning a few …”
Bailey is excited to expand his gaming options. He visits the casino multiple times each week to play poker and hit the slots. He thinks the state’s expansion to sports betting will be a popular play for casino patrons and that it will help bolster revenue for the state.
Betting on sports, he said, requires more skill than slots. Bailey said he’ll stick to betting on the teams he follows, especially since it has been 20 years at least since he has placed a bet on a sporting event.
“There’s been no opportunity around here,” he said. “Unless you had a bookie.”
Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ETNrink.