COVID-19 meant no sports to wager on and no casinos to gamble in for most of 2020, leading to a large drop in gaming revenue in Pennsylvania last year.
According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, casino closure days totaled 1,473 in 2020, or 33% of the number of days the 13 casinos would have been operating in a normal year.
That led to 22.24% drop in gaming revenues in 2020.
The combined revenue of slot machine, table games, sports wagering, online, video gaming terminals and fantasy contests totaled $2.65 billion in 2020 compared to $3.41 billion in 2019.
However, with people stuck at home, the shutdown did lead to a boom in online gaming.
Internet gaming revenue in Pennsylvania for 2020 was $565.8 million for the year, up drastically from the $33.6 million in internet gaming in 2019 – the first year online gambling was allowed in the state.
Wind Creek had a more than 47% decline in slots revenue, taking in $150.8 million in 2020 compared to $284.9 million in 2019.
The Bethlehem casino’s table game revenue for the year was down more than 56% at $104 million, down from $237.2 million in 2019.
Wind Creek was closed for 122 days during 2020.
In Mount Pocono, Mount Airy Casino resort took in $103.1 million in slot revenue in 2020, down 28% from the $144 million it took in during 2019.
Table game revenue there was $27.6 million in 2020, down 27% from the $38.1 million it took in during 2019.
Mount Airy was closed for 116 days.
Most major sports were shut down for a number of months during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, but as a new source of gaming revenue, casinos that offered sports wagering did see an increase in revenue, with wagering only available during the final months of 2019.
Overall, the state’s casinos that had sportsbooks took in $189.7 million in sports wagering revenue, much lower than the numbers that were expected if the regular sports schedule had taken place.
Mount Airy Casino resort had a jump of 371.6 percent taking in $10.6 million in sports wagering revenue for 2020.
Wind Creek did not have sports wagering until the end of 2020.
Total revenue was up at Pennsylvania’s casinos last month.
The state Gaming Control Board reported that revenue was up 3.4 percent over total revenue in December of 2018, with casinos that added retail and online sports betting leading the revenue jump.
Total casino revenue was $292 million for the month as compared to $282.25 in December 2018. Of that, casino sportsbooks brought in $17.5 million.
Overall revenue includes money from slot machines, table games, internet gaming, retail and internet sports wagering, fantasy contests and video gaming terminals.
The largest increase, by far, was at the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia. The casino, which is among those with sports betting, saw a 47.2 percent increase over the prior December, jumping from $15.13 million to $16.68 million.
Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, which also added sports betting late last year, saw an increase 15.18 percent, $15.3 million to $17.42 million.
Wind Creek Casino Resort in Bethlehem, which does not offer sports betting, still had a modest over-year increase of .34 percent, going from $43.5 million to $43.6.
Some casinos did see a decrease, including Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Dauphin County, which saw a 5.7 percent decrease from $21.9 million in December 2018 to $20.7 million in December 2019.
After one full year of legal sports betting in the state of Pennsylvania, the industry continues to grow.
The industry launched in November 2018 with one sports book operator generating $1.4 million in bets and $508,997 in gross revenue.
PlayPennsylvania.com, a website that researches and advocates for the state’s gaming industry, said since that relatively small launch, the number of casinos offering sports betting and the volume being wagered has grown dramatically.
The state has now surpassed $1 billion in wagering.
One year after the launch, there were seven sports book operators in November 2019 with the November launch of DraftKings, under The Meadows license, and Unibet, under the Mohegan Sun Pocono umbrella. Mount Airy Casino Resort and Fox Bet also launched a sports book online and at the Mount Pocono casino.
All totaled, the seven online sports books generated 84.3 percent of the state’s November handle, with a total of $266.7 million, which was up from $198.7 million in October.
“Pennsylvania has come a long way in a year,” said Dustin Gouker, analyst for PlayPennsylvania.com. “Plagued with relatively high gaming taxes and early hurdles to its online launch, Pennsylvania’s future as a legal sports betting jurisdiction was murky at the beginning. But despite the issues in its infancy, the state has proven to be attractive for operators and the market is truly beginning to flourish.”
Pennsylvania taxes sports wagering at 15 percent, the highest of the states that allow sports wagering.
November continued the steady growth the industry had seen over the year, with sports betting operators accepting $316.5 million in wagers that month, up 31.2 percent from October where $241.2 million was wagered, according to the state gaming control board.
Those bets generated $20.6 million in revenue, an increase from October’s $19.1 million in revenue, and brought in $3.9 million in state taxes.
Overall, the month of November was a strong one for Pennsylvania’s casinos, especially Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, which had a 31.64 percent increase in total revenue over November of last year. The Pocono casino took in $18.88 million in November as compared to $14.34 million in November of last year.
It was the highest increase of the state’s casinos, which saw a total 13 percent increase in November revenue over 2018.
Meanwhile in Bethlehem, the Wind Creek Bethlehem Resort Casino saw a slight decrease in revenue, the only casino to see a dip.
Its revenue was down .48 percent over November of last year, going from $40.12 million from $40.31 million in November 2018.
The former Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem was sold to PGI Gaming Authority of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in July for $1.3 billion.
While overall revenue was down for the casino, most of that was in slots, which saw a 9.17 percent decrease. Table games were up 10.54 percent.
Missing is internet gaming and sports betting, neither of which are offered by Wind Creek.
Mount Airy took in $3.17 million in internet gaming. Its sportsbook opened in November and hasn’t reported revenue yet.
Sources of gaming revenue regulated by the board include slot machines, table games, internet gaming, retail and internet sports wagering, fantasy contests and video gaming terminals.
One area that was down overall was fantasy sports gaming. Fantasy gaming dropped from $3.24 million in revenue in November 2018 to $2.98, a drop of 8.02 percent.
New for November was gaming terminals, which are now allowed in spaces such as select truck stops. Terminals brought in $659,288 in November. There are no statistics for last year.
All totaled, gaming revenue in Pennsylvania brought in $292 million in November.
Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono has officially cut the ribbon on its new retail sportsbook.
The sportsbook had a soft opening last month.
The private 3,800-square-foot area is located just off the casino floor with space for about 75 people.
The sportsbook features 50 televisions for sports viewing, a luxury lounge and a 12-table poker room.
The casino has 20 employees working the sportsbook.
The ribbon cutting comes on the heels of the launch of the casino’s online gaming offerings, which launched earlier this week.
The resort launched the partnership with Fox Bet, which will allow in-state residents to make sports wagers and PokerStars, a gaming platform, to have online poker and other gaming options such as slots, roulette and black jack.
Mount Airy’s Sportsbook will have its official public launch event Saturday. The resort will be giving away sportsbook t-shirts and hosting food and beer specials.
Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono has joined the growing list of casinos in Pennsylvania to offer gaming and sports betting online. It has also become the first casino to offer regulated cash poker games online.
The resort launched a partnership with Fox Bet, which will allow in-state residents to make sports wagers and PokerStars, a gaming platform, to have online poker and other gaming options such as slots, roulette and black jack.
Through its partnership with Mount Airy, Fox Bet is the only operator to offer online poker, gaming and sports bets.
The online games and wagering became available at www.starsmtairycasino.com Monday afternoon.
“We’re constantly investing in our player experience, and in 2019 that means going beyond brick and mortar improvements to bring customers one of the most exciting gaming options available,” said Todd Greenberg, COO and general manager at Mount Airy Casino Resort. “Through strategic partnerships like our affiliation with PokerStars, Mount Airy is committed to offering the most cutting-edge gaming experience possible.”
In-casino wagering began last month at the casino with a soft opening, but the casino plans a grand opening celebration of its sports book on Saturday.
With online sports betting just getting out of the gate in Pennsylvania, the numbers aren’t telling the story of its revenue potential quite yet, according to experts tracking the sector
And despite what may look like a slow start, people who have been studying online sports betting and watching Pennsylvania’s foray into the industry have high expectations.
One website, playpennsylvania.com, which has been tracking online gaming trends, projects that in five years the online sports betting industry will generate $500 million a year in revenue for Pennsylvania.
For now, though, Dough Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said online sports betting has really only just begun, with the first Pennsylvania casino launching online betting in May.
Overall, the total wagering amount was $19.3 million for online sports betting in June compared to the more the $27 million wagered in-house at casinos.
The revenue amount was also very small. For that $19.3 million wagered, revenue was only about $1.4 million.
“It’s going to take some time and additional rollout for us to really gauge what all these numbers mean,” Harbach said.
Currently, only three of the eight casinos in the state that offer sports betting have online operations: SugarHouse in Philadelphia, Parx in Bensalem and Rivers in Pittsburgh: A fourth, Valley Forge in King of Prussia, was expected to be online by press time.
So the total amount wagered, while smaller, came from three as compared to eight casinos, and the majority came from one casino, SugarHouse, which was the only casino that was operational for all of June.
Also, revenue numbers are lower for the starting months because of promotional credits being offered by the casinos.
Parx Casino, for example, is offering a free initial $10 bet and up to $250 in credit with a deposit into a sports betting account.
Harbach said as bettors take advantage of those early offers it cuts into revenue, so some casinos might even have their spending on credits outpace revenue for the first few months.
But there are several factors that indicate numbers should skyrocket in the next few months.
First is the demand in New Jersey, which began offering online sports betting about a year ago.
“If you look at New Jersey 75 percent of wagering is now being performed through online sources,” Harbach said.
In that first year New Jersey had $1.2 billion in wagering for $204 million in revenue.
Pennsylvania has a larger population, with 12.8 million people versus 8.9 million in New Jersey.
“The fact that Pennsylvania is such a big state is part of what makes people excited,” said Jessica Welman, editor for PlayPennsylvania.com.
She noted that online sports betting in New Jersey is now so popular it eclipses in-house betting.
In June, New Jersey had $227 million in online sports bets compared to $46 million in-in house bets.
In Pennsylvania – where only eight casinos currently offering sports betting, but many more scheduled to do so – the entire amount bet on sports was $46 million for the month.
“The growth potential is huge for Pennsylvania,” she said.
Facilitated by tech
New technologies coming onto the market should also make it easier for people to make sports bets online, Welman said.
She noted that at the start of sports betting late last year in Pennsylvania, bets could be made only by physically going to a sports book inside the eight casinos that offered them.
With the start of online gambling, bettors can make wagers anywhere in the state. The sites verify that bets are being made within Pennsylvania borders using geolocating technology.
And casinos can offer mobile sports betting using the popular Apple platform.
Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive provides a mobile sports betting app to both SugarHouse and Rivers casinos.
Rush Street’s president, Richard Schwartz, said Apple has been slow to approve sports betting apps, but his company was able to get its app approved, making the company the first to offer mobile sports betting in Pennsylvania for Apple devices.
Since SugarHouse has locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Schwartz said, bettors can download the apps in both states and use the app corresponding to the state where they are.
The sports betting app being developed for Valley Forge Casino by FanDuel promises to make it even easier. Its app can automatically locate the bettor and steer bets to the proper state’s sports book – New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
Schwartz said online and mobile betting may help in marketing bricks-and-mortar casinos.
Sports bettors, mostly men, tend to be about 10 years younger than the average casino patron, and some may never have visited an actual casino, he said.
“They may never have played a casino game, but this is a new attraction so it’s a point of entry for marketing, and is a great marketing tool to get people to experience the property,” Schwartz said. “They may bet online but when they want a night out on the town they come back to the property.”
Welman also noted that a big boost in betting should come later in August when football seasons starts. Football is the most popular sport for wagering in the U.S.
“That’s when I think the numbers will really explode,” she said.
Also by that time, PlayPennsylvania.com expects several more casinos will be offering betting apps, including Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono.
Some questions remain, such as will Pennsylvania’s online gaming growth affect New Jersey’s successful sports betting market?
Welman said that many people, especially those living in communities close to the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border, like the Lehigh Valley, may be inclined to make bets in both states now that they have an option. That could impact both states.
Pennsylvania’s tax rate on sports betting could also influence how many of the state’s 12 casinos open their own sports book.
Pennsylvania taxes sports betting at 34 percent, the highest of all states that allow sports betting. In Nevada, by comparison, the rate is 6.7 percent.
A number of casinos have yet to decide whether they will offer sports betting.
Wind Creek Casino Resort in Bethlehem, for example, does not currently have a sports book and its operators told the gaming control board at a recent hearing that they were still considering their options.
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