PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As the Steelers took the field on this recent Monday Night, a different kind of game was already in full swing a few hundred yards away.
At the Rivers Casino Sportsbook, it’s not necessarily whether your team wins, it’s whether they cover the spread, and the Steelers were two-touchdown favorites.
“I like the Steelers. I like them to cover,” said Mark Trella of Moon. “It is a big spread, but I think they’ll be fine.”
The firewall that once stood between pro sports and gambling has come down and sports betting in Pennsylvania has become an inferno.
In September, bettors wagered $194 million dollars in the state, up 78 percent from the month before.
Much of it at the Rivers.
“It really electrifies the center of the casino, because everybody’s got a couple of bucks on the game, and it’s a whole new way of watching it,” said Andre Barnabei of the Rivers.
It’s a whole new experience here at the Rivers but the real action in terms of numbers is on the phone.
Three of every four are placed electronically on one of the new sports gaming apps available for download on your phone. Literally thousands of potential wagers right in your hand 24 hours a day, including in-game wagering, allowing you to bet on just about anything that happens on the field.
“First down, believe it or not, I bet on first downs, or fourth down if they go for it,” said Erik Gensler of South Fayette. “If it’s one of two yards. I make a real quick bet if I can.”
NFL rules prohibit teams from entering into sports betting-related sponsorships but that hasn’t stopped wagering at the games themselves, fans in the stands on their iPhones or Samsungs betting on what might happen next.
But to others, the easy access to all of those betting options sets off alarms.
“The in-game betting exponentially increases the danger, because if you lose early you have all of that time to chase your losses,” Jody Bechtold, a gambling addiction counselor.
The demographic for sports betting is young and male.
Guys in their thirties, twenties and younger who can’t handicap a horse or play blackjack but believe they know which teams will win and cover on Sunday.
Bechtold says she already seeing some new young clients who’ve already developed a closet compulsion.
SHEEHAN: You think we’re going to see a whole new generation of gaming addicts?
BECHTOLD: We will
A problem that won’t be seen here under the mammoth flat-screen TVs and betting kiosks but while the industry concedes that a small percentage, 2 to 3 percent of the population, will develop a gambling problem, Gary Rotstein of the website PennBets says those percentages hold true, and the home gamer is generally someone who will find an enhancement rather than an addiction.
“He’s going be the kind of guy who would watch Steelers anyway, and as long as he’s watching, he’s putting $20 buck on the game for them to win or cover the point spread, and it’s just that much more fun or interesting,” Rostein said.
Guys like Erik Gensler.
SHEEHAN: Do you think it’s a slippery slope? That you could develop problem?
GENSLER: I definitely do my best to watch what I do, because if not my wife would kill me.
New gamblers can learn a painful lesson, it’s a lot harder than just predicting who will win a game.
You’ll recall that the Steelers beat the dolphins that night by 13 points…the point spread was 14.
Meanwhile, the real winner here is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The state is reaping the profits that once went to your local bookie. Cash-strapped and facing deficits, it has a brand new stream of revenue that is growing by the day.