It was 1986 and a then very young sportswriter, in his second year covering the Philadelphia Eagles, had moved from New Jersey to Holland in Bucks County, Pa.
In his new surroundings and brand-new condo, he began channel surfing through his television choices and stumbled on what appeared to be live horse racing from what was then Philadelphia Park in Bensalem. A long-time horse racing fan, the writer was intrigued at being able to watch live races from his couch. When a phone number (1-800-BET-PARK, yes, I still remember the number) scrolled across the bottom of the screen with information on “phone bet” they had him.
He couldn’t wait to call his friends back in New Jersey and tell them how he could watch and bet on the races from home. It wasn’t long before those friends made the trip across the bridge with sandwiches and beers and turned his living room into their private OTB parlor.
That was long before the internet, cell phones and casinos anywhere but Las Vegas and Atlantic City. And what was then called Philadelphia Park was way ahead of the curve.
Some 36 years later Philly Park has morphed into Parx, the No. 1 casino in Pennsylvania and maybe the entire East coast. And the people who run it remain ahead of the curve.
Over the past month, Parx has introduced betPARX an app for your phone that has anything and everything a sports bettor, a slots player or any type of casino game player would want and more. It debuted in New Jersey and Pennsylvania last month and will be on its way to several other states throughout 2022.
“What is betPARX?” Matt Alba, Parx’s executive producer of interactive media asks as he can’t wait to tell you. “It’s a new app. We had a Parx Casino app and we had a Parx sports betting app. This is a total re-brand of the casino app and the sportsbook app into one. It’s been a long time coming.
“Download the app from the Apple store or the Google play store and you go in, and it’s such a clean product that we’ve been developing for years, you can play all the slot games you love, all the content you won’t find anywhere else. And you can go to the sportsbook side of the app and place bets on whatever games you want. Winners, over/under, props, live betting, whatever you want.”
With the iGaming industry getting bigger and bigger and sports betting now legal in 30 states and growing, the betPARX app has something for everyone and just as that writer did back in 1986 it allows you to make bets from your living room couch.
“We strive for creative original content to differentiate ourselves from other sites,” content producer Natalie Egenolf, who began with
Parx last summer after 12 years in the sports radio business, said. “Anyone can read the odds and pick games. It doesn’t necessarily make for entertaining content.”
Egenolf, long-time Sixers writer and broadcaster [and JerseyMan/PhillyMan Magazine contributor] Dei Lynam and former NFL quarterback and Philadelphia native Rich Gannon all joined the Parx team to create that content and to make the site and now the app entertaining.
“The plan was to recruit local celebrities and athletes with dedicated followers from the Pa. casino market,” said Alba, who worked for several NBC affiliates before joining Parx. “We’ve grown through social media. We post daily content that is different from our competitors. We don’t just want betting odds and the things you see everywhere.”
Gannon appeared with Egenolf and Alba throughout the NFL season to give his insights on each week’s action. You can also hear podcasts that range from teaching the novice how to bet to more in-depth coverage of the gambling world.
Egenolf was a natural for what Parx wanted. She grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, a few furlongs from the old racetrack, went there as a young girl with her father and then made her name as a co-host on 97.5’s Mike Missanelli Show. She left drive time sports talk to become one of the faces of the new-look of sports media.
“The sports media landscape is changing,” she said. “I was so familiar with the Parx brand from growing up here and coming here for so long.
“What we want to do is utilize our personality and use content creators to feel brand inclusive. We want to open it to everyone because it’s not just the sportsbook online, it’s the casino as well. And it’s all piggybacked off the actual brick-and-mortar casino here at Parx. We want our content to feel good to the 25-year-old sportsbook player and the 55-year-old iCasino slots player.”
That’s what betPARX is doing, because that 25-year-old and 55-year-old have the same goal in mind (to win), they just have different ways of trying to achieve it.
“We want betting to become fun,” Egenolf said. “My job is to educate people as well. Let people know where their money is going. There are still stigmas around gambling. What we’re trying to do is show that it can be done responsibly and be fun. Gambling has become a part of sports now, a big part. I mean the numbers speak for themselves.”
One week after the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, just 11 of the states with legalized sports betting reported that $512.8 million were bet on the game according to Legal Sports Report. That’s up from the $486.5 million from 17 states bet on Super Bowl LV a year ago. In New Jersey alone $143.7 million was bet and in Pennsylvania, another $68 million was wagered.
The debut of betPARX is just going to add to that total next year. And all through the following year leading up to Super Bowl LVI.
“It’s going to be young and fresh and hip and cool and different and very inclusive because we don’t want anyone to feel left out,” Egenolf said just before the debut of the app. “Parx itself reminds me of Disneyland. You can come and have fun and go home and still associate yourself with the brand.”
While Egenolf credits her father with helping her become a sports fan, Alba has a story about his father that connects with the new app.
“My dad, who isn’t a big bettor, asked me recently ‘I was out golfing with my buddies and they asked me what app I used to put in a bet?’ He was used to the old way, where you had “a guy” at the barbershop or wherever,” Alba said. “We want people to get comfortable betting. They want to sit on the couch and throw bets in, player bets or live bets, as they watch the games.”
A year ago, Parx partnered with the Pittsburgh Steelers; this year they developed betPARX. And there’s more to come.
“It’s really exciting what’s coming,” Egenolf said. “It’s like we’re almost at the finish line, but it’s really just the beginning.”