Sportsbooks at Heinz Field, PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena? Bet on it, analysts say

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Jul. 11—Like grabbing a drink and a bag of peanuts before the game, stopping by a betting window to place money on the Penguins, Pirates or Steelers soon could become part of the ritual of going to a game.

Such is the reality at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., which in May became the first professional sports venue in the country to have a legal bookmaker in the building.

In coming years, it could be something states, teams and leagues mimic.

"Eventually, I'd expect to see it all over the country," said Alan Feldman of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. "It might not be immediate."

According to Feldman, the future growth of sportsbooks in arenas and stadiums likely would fall in line with the growth of the sports betting industry itself, which was legalized in 2018 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law that largely outlawed sports betting just about anywhere other than Nevada. In the three years since the act was overturned, 21 states have legalized sportsbooks.

Pennsylvania saw its first sportsbook open in 2018. The state now has a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow. But when it comes to sportsbooks in arenas and stadiums, teams and casino operators in the state seemingly have their hands tied.

According to officials with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the state's Gaming Expansion Act only permits those who hold a casino license to have the option of offering in-person sportsbooks. They cannot be placed in stadiums or arenas, including Pittsburgh's three major venues: Heinz Field, PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena.

Wagers find a way

Still, Rivers Casino found a way to offer a sportsbook experience at PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

BetRivers Lounge opened in April. It features a bar, televisions showing various sporting events and special seating that resembles what is seen at the casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore. However, there are no betting kiosks or sportsbook writers. Instead, wagers must be placed via the BetRivers Pennsylvania smartphone app or through its website.

"They look like a sportsbook, they feel like a sportsbook and they have the lines and the TVs and they have all different games on the TVs," said Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, which owns BetRivers.com. "You can place a bet, but on your phone."

A similar lounge was built inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, home of the NHL's Flyers, NBA's 76ers and a professional lacrosse team.

Stetz noted Rivers could expand similar facilities at other arenas and stadiums, although at this point nothing is official.

D.C.'s Capital One Arena, however, is home to a two-story, full-service sportsbook that is open seven days a week. It features 13 self-serve kiosks, 17 betting windows, two bars and a full-service restaurant.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said they have not heard of any discussions regarding the possibility of expanding retail sports wagering sites. Still, local operators are hopeful that changes, according to Shannon Redmond, vice president of marketing at Rivers Pittsburgh.

"We would love it when that day comes that it could be like the one" at Capital One Arena, Redmond said. "Right now, that's really out of our hands. That would be up to our regulators and working with the sports franchises."

Redmond noted that approval between the Penguins and members of the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority — the entity that owns PPG Paints Arena, PNC Park and Heinz Field — was needed to build the Pittsburgh lounge. State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who is chairman of the SEA board, said the approval was needed because seats had to be removed from part of the arena for the project.

According to Fontana, if the Pennsylvania Gaming Expansion Act was updated to reflect that sportsbooks could be opened in places such as arenas and stadiums, it would require several layers of approvals — including that of the SEA if a facility was proposed at a Pittsburgh sporting venue.

Fontana said he doubts the act will be updated.

"I don't see ... the General Assembly opening up the Gaming Act to put a sportsbook in an arena or stadium," he said. "I could see more sports lounges. I could see that happening maybe at PNC Park or Heinz Field."

Growing industry

Despite restrictions in Pennsylvania, several other states are gearing up to permit sportsbooks at different venues — a decision that would bring additional tax revenue to those states and local communities, while also benefiting professional franchises that open their doors to on-site sportsbooks.

"Will this make teams more valuable? Will this make leagues more valuable? Will this make TV rights more expensive?" Feldman asked. "Yes, yes, yes."

At Capital One Arena last month, the live NBA playoff game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards accounted for 40% of money wagered on the NBA at the sportsbook that day, ESPN reported. While the amount that went to Washington, D.C., through tax dollars is smaller than what is wagered, states seemingly hope to reap the benefits of opening the sports betting industry to professional teams.

Aside from D.C., Illinois was one of the first states to permit casinos and racetracks at arenas and stadiums as part of a 2019 funding bill that also allowed sports betting facilities to open online and at casinos and racetracks.

Last year, the Chicago Cubs announced a multiyear partnership with DraftKings that included plans for a sportsbook at Wrigley Field or in the Wrigleyville area outside of the park, ESPN reported. The sportsbook would include betting windows and self-serve kiosks.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in April signed a bill that allows sports betting under licenses issued to Native American tribes and pro sports teams, The Associated Press reported. Under the law, sports teams can run betting operations online and at their venues, or at a retail location up to a quarter-mile away.

Two days after the bill passed, DraftKings announced it will build a retail sportsbook at the TPC Scottsdale golf course, part of an expanded partnership with the PGA Tour. By May, Caesars Entertainment had announced a partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks to launch mobile sports betting in the state and to build a sportsbooks at Chase Field.

"It's really exciting for us," Joseph Solosky, manager director of sports betting for NASCAR, said recently during the SBC Digital North America conference. "It's a really large revenue opportunity. These licenses are really valuable to operators depending on the scarcity in the state, and it all depends on how legislation rolls out."

Looking for an in

Solosky added that as partnerships continue to be announced, sports teams and leagues could begin lobbying for similar legislation in their respective states.

"Make no mistake, there isn't a team or an arena manager that hasn't thought of that in terms of their footprint," Feldman said. "Where would this go, how would we do this?"

Despite restrictions in Pennsylvania, Feldman said Pittsburgh would be a "prime example" of where sportsbooks in arenas and stadiums could be done successfully, and would likely cash in on wagers that are being placed through other means.

"You can't possibly tell me that when the Steelers play the Colts there aren't fans in the stands making bets," Feldman said. "Now it just brings it out in the open, you can see it, you know who the players are ... and the players themselves have the secure knowledge the money will be paid."

Still, as things stand now in the state, Stetz said he believes BetRivers is ahead of the game as they open lounges in partnership with NHL teams.

"Are we ahead of the game? I think we'll be looking at this and potentially future opportunities in maybe other states as well, yes," Stetz said.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, mtomasic@triblive.com or via Twitter .