The 24-hour Sportsbook betting center at Parx is just the first step in a statewide expansion of gambling. Regulators could soon approve Parx gambling online.
It’s a safe bet Parx Casino will be packed Sunday when the Eagles take on the New Orleans Saints and patrons can legally wager thousands of dollars on the outcome.
On Thursday, the Bensalem gaming hall officially opened its 24-hour Sportsbook betting center, the latest move in a far-reaching expansion of gambling that will eventually allow Pennsylvanians to bet from the couch in their pajamas or anywhere else they can find an internet connection.
This Sunday, Eagles fans might heed the advice of long-time sport bettor Wesley Fulton, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey: “Bet with your brain, not with your heart,” said Fulton, who never bets on his home team.
Ryan Lakowski, of Bensalem, bet $100 on the — literal — underdogs; the Eagles were forecast to lose Sunday’s game against the Saints, according to the sports betting point spread, which was broadcast on dozens of monitors inside the Parx betting center.
Betting slips in hand, Ryan’s dad, Joe Lakowski, had also wagered $100 on two other NFL games scheduled for this Sunday.
For Joe, betting on the Eagles wasn’t necessary to make that game exciting, he said. “I bet on other games because it gives you a reason to watch,” said Joe, also of Bensalem. “Otherwise, you might not care.”
Having been “burnt” by bookies, Brian Volsi, of Bristol, said he would now bet at Parx. “Lotta guys have gotten burnt,” he said. “Bookies don’t have the money and don’t pay out.”
With sports betting, the thrill also lasts hours, Volsi said.
“I can spend $100 on a game and that’s hours of excitement,” he said. “You play the slots, and you could lose $100 in a couple of minutes.”
John B., of Allentown, asked not to have his last name published in the newspaper because he continues to bet via off-shore online casinos, and he was supposed to be at work — not in Parx Casino — on a Thursday afternoon.
Point spread: A prediction of the who will win the game and by how many points. In an eight-point spread, one team is predicted to win by eight points. In baseball, the point spread is called the “run line.” In hockey, it’s called the “puck line.”
Money line: A bet on the winner of the game, regardless of the point spread
Prop bet: A bet on a specific event in a game, such as the winner of coin toss or the first player to hit a home run
Parlay: A bet on several sporting events and outcomes at the same time. To win, you must correctly guess the outcome of every win or loss in the parlay.
Round robin: A bet containing several parlay bets from several games
Futures: An early bet on who will win the Super Bowl, the NBA Atlantic Division or be named MLB MVP
Over/under: A bet on whether the total combined score of two teams will be above or below a specified score
Source: Parx sports betting guide
While others hastily placed bets at the two-dozen kiosks, John checked stats on his smart phone and viewed predictions on ESPN.
“I consider myself more than a recreational gambler,” said John. “I’ll come here, look at the spread and maybe bet here or bet at some other site where I can get a better spread.”
Debbie McAnnie, of Northeast Philadelphia, was one of the few women in the sports betting center Thursday. (Experts say sports betting traditionally attracts males.)
A self-professed trailblazer in a sea of men, McAnnie bet $10 on the Eagles, she said. “The Eagles have been beating the odds. I think they’re going to win.”
One sure bet is the future expansion of Parx and other area gaming halls. The Sportsbook betting center is only temporary, said Matt Cullen, senior vice president of interactive gaming & sports for Parx. Later this year, the casino plans a $10 million sports betting expansion and an indoor/outdoor beer garden. As early as this spring, Parx also could start offering all its games online, pending approval of state regulators, Cullen predicted.
Supporters of the gambling expansion point to a 34 percent tax on sports wagers and billions of dollars in generated revenues for the state.
But, addiction counselors are alarmed.
Charles Mirarchi started sports betting at age 12, winning $20 in a college football pool. Today, Mirarchi is a certified counselor with the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Sports betting draws a different demographic, and — unlike slot machines and blackjack tables — professional sports is everywhere, he said.
“Your slot players tend to be older women who do escape gambling,” said Mirarchi. With sports betting, gamblers think “they can make this like a second job. They can probably make another $20,000 or $50,000 a year,” said Mirarchi. “The compulsive gambler thinks that way.”
Mirachi urged anyone concerned about having a gambling addiction to call 1-800-GAMBLER. On its website, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board also lists gamblers anonymous meetings with locations including Doylestown, Langhorne and northeast Philadelphia. For more information, visit gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.