Welcome to the Pennsylvania Sports Betting Brief for the week of March 2. In this column, we’ll review some recent sports betting news in the Keystone State. With 2019 — the first full year of legalized sports betting in the U.S. — now firmly in the rearview mirror, we’ll examine how the still-emerging Pennsylvania market ranked among other states with legal wagering markets. Then, the Phillies were considered one of the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series last season before things unraveled. With the new campaign right on the horizon and spring training fully underway, we’ll start our preview of the two local teams by examining the Phillies’ 2020 NL pennant futures odds.
Pennsylvania Sports Betting Industry News
PA holds its own during first full year with legalized sports betting
The Keystone State was one of the proverbial pioneers in terms of getting a legal sports betting market established. Just six months after the Supreme Court struck down PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in May 2018, PA saw Hollywood Casino break the ice with the debut of its sportsbook. Right before the close of the year, SugarHouse and Rivers joined the fray with December rollouts of retail locations. That set 2019 up as a year of exponential growth for the Pennsylvania sports betting market.
The state delivered on that potential and then some. Pennsylvania now has 12 active operators. Eight of those offer an all-important mobile option as well. The state’s populace is just under 13 million. Plenty of those residents have shown a willingness to stake money on their favorite sports. According to a PlayPennsylvania report, the Keystone State checked in at No. 3 in sports betting handle for 2019. What’s more, it was behind only one state — New Jersey — that was granted the right to legalize wagering courtesy of the SCOTUS decision (legacy state Nevada ranked No. 1 with $5.3 billion in handle). Pennsylvania garnered $1.5 billion in handle overall. That was second only behind NJ’s $4.6 billion.
It bears noting there’s nowhere to go but up, too. Six of the biggest online platforms in the state — including twin juggernauts FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook — didn’t have their mobile option available until July and November, respectively. That’s particularly relevant when considering online betting just accounted for nearly $309 million of the $348.4 million in handle Pennsylvania saw in January.
And DK Sportsbook only appeared to be hitting its stride as 2020 began ($58.6 million in January online handle) after struggling over its first month-plus. Moreover, FOX Bet and UniBet, both still far from maximizing their likely potential in the online space. The two debuted their respective products in September and November. The advantage of a full NFL season in 2020 should help give both a boost.
As per the year-end report, PA doesn’t have a clear challenger for its No. 3 spot (Indiana was fourth with $436 million, and its 6.7 million in population is dwarfed by Pennsylvania). Whether PA can overtake New Jersey is an open question. However, what appears to be all but a certainty is we’ll be looking at a much higher year-end number for the Keystone State at this time next year.
This Week’s Best Bet at PA Sportsbooks
Phillies NL Pennant Futures
To Win NL Pennant (+1000 at FanDuel Sportsbook)
Expectations were soaring for the Phillies to last season upon the signing of prize free agent Bryce Harper and some notable trades. However, the campaign ended in profound disappointment. Philadelphia was the picture of mediocrity with an 81-81 mark. That pedestrian mark came even as key offseason moves largely paid off. Harper’s numbers looked fine on paper by year’s end — he slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs and 114 RBI, with the latter two figures and his batting average qualifying as career bests. Yet he didn’t really heat up until the latter portion of the season. J.T. Realmuto (career-high 25 home runs and 83 RBI) and Jean Segura were both highly productive trade acquisitions.
However, Andrew McCutchen saw his first Philadelphia season cut short by a torn ACL in June. The veteran outfielder won’t be ready for Opening Day this year while he completes his recovery. Then, David Robertson, signed to help close out games after a multi-year track record as a stellar reliever suffered a UCL injury that required Tommy John surgery after just seven appearances. Odubel Herrera was also suspended for the balance of the season in June for an off-field incident.
Philly was atop the NL East in June before those unfortunate dominoes began to fall. They would never recover while playing a tough division that included the eventual World Series champions Nationals. However, a new year and season brings a fresh outlook and reason for optimism. Last season’s major offensive contributors, sans McCutchen, are all back and healthy as spring training unfolds. A projected lineup that includes Realmuto, Segura, Harper, a much-improved Scott Kingery and Rhys Hoskins is certainly an impressive core. The Phillies also focused on a number of veteran, proven free-agent acquisitions this offseason that should significantly improve depth — Didi Gregorious (projected to start at shortstop), Josh Harrison, Neil Walker and Logan Forsythe.
And naturally, there’s pitching. As is the case with essentially every team, the Phillies’ will ultimately go as far as their rotation carries them. In that regard, the team went out and acquired one of the top second-tier arms available this winter in Zach Wheeler. The right-hander is coming off two straight sub-4.00 ERA seasons and will slot in at No. 2 in the rotation behind Aaron Nola. Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez round out the top five arms for new manager Joe Girardi, who could prove to be just as big a get as any player.
There will be no shortage of competition for the NL pennant. That holds true even though the Nationals lost Anthony Rendon this offseason. The Dodgers’ acquisition of Mookie Betts via trade makes them the clear odds-on favorite, but given Philaelphia’s own impressive cache of talent could conceivably vault them to the top with the help of some better health than last season. Therefore, the current price is certainly worth taking a flier on.