Last year proved for Pennsylvania that if gambling is available, people will try their luck.
For casinos, that meant innovating as the coronavirus forced two separate closure periods, beginning in March and again in December. The result was a 22.24% drop in combined gambling revenue statewide, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said last week.
By year’s end, a clear winner had emerged, however — internet-based gaming, or iGaming. Revenue from iGaming leapt by 1584% in 2020 compared to 2019 in Pennsylvania, with December seeing a record $71.6 million in gross revenue from casino games offered online — up 574% from December 2019.
“With a dozen casino-type iGaming sites already operational, it is expected that marketing and the addition of more games on those sites should continue to drive more traffic to the sites and increase revenue,” gaming control board spokesman Douglas Harbach told lehighvalleylive.com, adding that Pennsylvania regulators hope to learn from neighboring New Jersey’s experience with iGaming that goes back several years.
Wind Creek’s brick-and-mortar casino was unable to avoid a down year that carried unimaginable impacts. The casino was forced in September to lay off 20% of its workers. In April, table games supervisor Jonny Shen became one of COVID-19′s victims, his family said at the time.
Wind Creek ended 2020 with total gaming revenues down 50.7% compared to 2019, according to state figures. Table games saw the biggest percentage drop, with $104 million in revenue representing a downturn of 56.2%, even as the year brought in its first iGaming revenue that would total nearly $2.4 million.
A Wind Creek spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Statewide, casino closure days totaled 1,473 in 2020, or 33% of the number of days the 13 casinos would have operated in a normal year, the gaming control board said. Additionally, video gaming terminal establishments were shut down for a similar percentage of days due to COVID-19 safety measures.
Revenue from iGaming, meanwhile, leapfrogged that of table games to represent the second-biggest sector of casino revenues in Pennsylvania, behind slots.
Looking ahead, the gaming board’s Harbach said an increase in revenue and tax generation is expected in 2021, partly because Pennsylvania now has more casinos. The total 14 casinos include Live! Casino Pittsburgh and Live! Casino Philadelphia that opened in the last two months.
Pennsylvania taxes generated from gambling totaled nearly $1.1 billion in 2020, down from $1.4 billion in 2019, based on revenues totaling just under $2.7 billion in 2020 compared to $3.4 billion in 2019.
“It is certainly hoped that COVID restrictions can be lightened/lifted by the second half of the year allowing all games to be offered, a higher patron attendance and return to employment for all casino employees,” Harbach told lehighvalleylive.com.
In addition, Penn National Gaming is set to open two mini-casinos in 2021, in York and Berks counties, whose games will include sports betting. That’s in addition to 15 retail sportsbooks already in operation — including at Wind Creek, Mount Airy Casino Resort and Mohegan Sun Lehigh Valley inside the Downs at Lehigh Valley. Pennsylvania also anticipates more online poker rooms launching in 2021; only Mont Airy offers online poker now, the gaming board said.
According to an analysis from pennbets.com, it’s possible Pennsylvania gambling revenues could reach $4 billion in 2021 for the first time ever, good for $1.6 billion in state and local government taxes.
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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.