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Editor’s note: Pennsylvania recently legalized online poker and casino games. This is the next installment in a series of articles about the casinos in Pennsylvania and their possible place in the online gambling market.
Rivers Casino is the only gaming establishment in Allegheny County.
The waterfront casino occupies 17 acres of Ohio River north shore in the Chateau neighborhood of Pittsburgh. That puts it right in the shadows of Heinz Field and PNC Park, two of the city’s professional sports stadiums.
When Pennsylvania legalized casino gambling in 2004, one license was allocated to the city of Pittsburgh. Four groups submitted proposals, including a group led by Don Barden and The Majestic Star Casino.
Barden’s proposal was accepted, and The Majestic Star was awarded its Category 2 slots license on Dec. 20, 2006. Construction workers broke ground on the site a year later, but the process was marred by troubles.
Lawsuits from the losing applicants compounded the delays, and construction was halted when Barden defaulted on a $200 million loan. He sold off 75 percent of his interest to Neil Bluhm and Rush Street Gaming, who footed the rest of the bill.
Construction resumed under the new name Rivers Casino, and the doors were opened on Aug. 9, 2009. Table games were legalized and added the following year.
Although it doesn’t have a hotel, Rivers Casino is considering investing $51.5 million to construct a new tower with 221 guest rooms. That addition would make it a full-scale resort on par with Sands Bethlehem, one of the leaders in PA casino gambling.
Rivers Casino currently has about 3,000 slot machines and more than 100 table games, and a 30-table poker room. It employs around 1,750 people.
By those numbers, Rivers is the state’s third-largest casino. It generated more than $330 million in revenue during the 2016-17 fiscal year. More than $155 million of that was returned to the city, county, and state in the form of taxes.
Like most PA casinos, Rivers is heavily reliant on slot revenue. Machines account for more than 80 percent of its bottom line.
Rivers Casino has a clear path into online gambling.
With things going smoothly in NJ, Rush Street Interactive will almost certainly run Rivers’ online and mobile betting products. It could be positioned to launch one of the first multi-state poker networks, too.
Online gambling laws in both NJ and PA provide for liquidity sharing across their borders. The Rush Street group also owns sister properties in New York and Illinois, two states actively considering their own online gambling bills. New York is primarily looking at sports betting, but Illinois online casinos have been part of the conversation.
Rivers Casino currently hosts a social casino running on Scientific Games’ Play4Fun network.
Rush Street Interactive will power the online version of Rivers Casino.
Both Rivers Casino and SugarHouse Casino are owned by Rush Street Gaming, which has its own online gambling network. The two properties will likely share the Rush Street Interactive platform but retain their individual brand presence online.
PlaySugarHouse is already active in New Jersey. It will soon launch in Pennsylvania, too, where it will almost certainly be joined by Rivers Casino on the same network.
Multi-state agreements could eventually allow liquidity to flow between NJ and PA for online poker.
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Rush Street Interactive is poised to become a market leader when PA online gambling goes live. The group already owns two successful land-based casino brands, plus a growing NJ online casino still in its infancy.
Competition for early market shares figures to be fierce in PA. Most of the state’s dozen casino licensees will pursue online gambling, including gambling giant Harrah’s.
The Rivers brand isn’t well known outside of its three-state radius for the time being, but the expansion of its parent company into NJ may foreshadow similar efforts elsewhere.
Past installments of this series: