With go-ahead for Stephen Starr’s Bankroll, Philly moves closer to ‘epicenter for sports betting’ prediction

The restaurant will join Barstool Sports Bar as sportsbook-friendly destination in Center City.

A rendering of the new restaurant and luxury sports bar that will take over the former Boyd Theatre

A rendering of the new restaurant and luxury sports bar that will take over the former Boyd Theatre

JKRP Architects
desiraeholland

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Stephen Starr’s next Philly restaurant just got the zoning approval it needed to move forward, and it’s shaping up to be different from his other spots.

At more than one and a half times the size of Parc, not only will Bankroll be huge — it’ll be designed to welcome and encourage sports betting.

Slated to take over the historic former Boyd Theatre at 19th and Chestnut, as well as the Gap store next door, Bankroll won’t have its own gambling license. But the “luxury sports bar experience,” as a press release called it, will aim to “redefine how sports and other live events are watched.” Its 400 seats will be spread across multiple spaces, including three bars, a formal dining room, event spaces, and “living room seating pods,” according to the Business Journal.

Located in the heart of the city, it’s the latest step toward a vision stated by Bankroll partner Paul Martino, whose Doylestown-based Bullpen Capital was one of the first investors in hit sportsbet app FanDuel.

Philadelphia, Martino told CBS3 in late 2020, is poised to become “the epicenter for sports betting in the United States.”

The prediction came soon after Barstool Sports’ founder announced he was moving to Philly in advance of rolling out a sportsbook app. The bro brand had recently gotten a big investment from Berks County-based Penn National Gaming, and observers noted the casino operator’s primary interest was likely in developing Barstool’s betting platform.

Barstool is now doubling down on Philadelphia. It recently choose the city to get one of the first outposts of its self-branded sports bars, which will encourage betting via its app.

Legal sports betting in the U.S. has exploded in popularity since being OK’d by the Supreme Court four years ago. The $316 billion it generated nationally in the first 10 months of 2021 is more than double the year prior, NBC News reported. Sportsbook revenue growth in Pennsylvania was also robust, but compared to the national stats, there’s room for more.

Of the record $432 million generated from gaming throughout the Commonwealth in November — up 52% year over year, according to a report from the Pa. Gaming Control Board — the largest change came from sports wagering, which grew 70% to $64 million.

That comes as no surprise to industry insiders.

“Gaming growth in Pa. is a product of the Gambling Extension Bill legislators approved in late 2017,” Gaming Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole told Billy Penn, “which aimed to provide additional products to land based casinos to ensure the continued success as a commercial enterprise and to compete with other jurisdictions.”

Sports betting mostly happens via apps, which dovetailed with in-person COVID restrictions to grow its share of the gambling pie. In Pennsylvania, online sports betting and other internet-based casino-type games accounted for 33% of the state’s gaming revenue in fiscal year 2021.

“The way we look at gambling has changed drastically,” said Katie Kohler, managing editor at Play Pennsylvania, an independent site covering online casino news. “The idea of what we consider legalized gambling has shifted since mobile sport betting and online casinos. Now you can place a bet or play your favorite slot anywhere.”

Play Pennsylvania was first to report the location of Philly’s Barstool Sports Bar, which is going into the former Brickwall Tavern, at 1213 Sansom St. across from Fergie’s Pub. Construction is underway, according to pics posted on social media.

Like Bankroll, the Barstool bar won’t hold a gaming license. That tactic for expanding sport betting in the city was recently shot down, when the Zoning Board in June denied a permit that would’ve allowed a Parx Casino-run operation to open at the South Philly Chickie’s and Pete’s. Neighbors were up in arms over the idea, saying “a gambling parlor does not belong in a residential neighborhood.”

There was some similar pushback over Bankroll, with Council President Darrell Clarke telling the Business Journal, “People should acknowledge that this is going to have impact on the residents, even the ones that support it.”

But the 18,000-square-foot Stephen Starr spot is in a much more central, more commercialized corridor. The restaurant backers say they’ll restore the former Boyd to its 1920s Art Deco glory, and promise to be a “strong community partner.”

Bankroll has promised the Center City Residents Association that operations will cease by 2 a.m. nightly, and that it will never apply for a casino license for on-site gaming.