Atlantic City casinos battling more than coronavirus in 2021
Despite a shutdown of brick-and-mortar operations for more than three months, and running the rest of the year at 25% capacity, Atlantic City's nine casinos saw gambling revenue fall by less than 20% last year compared to 2019.
The casinos have received plenty of financial support during the coronavirus pandemic from internet and sports wagering, but even those cash sources are at risk of dwindling in 2021 — and the reasons why have nothing to do with COVID-19.
"After a slow start, Pennsylvania casinos are poised to challenge New Jersey's current East Coast internet betting hegemony, if not this year certainly by 2022," industry analyst Anthony Marino told us.
With the soft launch of Live! Casino underway, Atlantic City is adding a sixth nearby Pennsylvania gaming hall to its list of competitors. All six are paired with major companies for online gaming, a feature launched in New Jersey in 2018 and in Pennsylvania in 2019.
In 2020, when gamblers were forced to play remotely from mid-March through June due to the pandemic, revenue from internet gaming more than doubled in New Jersey compared to 2019, according to Division of Gaming Enforcement figures.
"Major brands such as FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars, UniBet, Bet365, and BetRivers are available now in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. More are likely this year," Marino said. "This development will reduce New Jersey handles and accelerate Pennsylvania's growth in sports wagering revenues."
At the same time, officials in New York are attempting to get mobile sports betting off the ground, Marino noted. There's significant debate, however, over how to implement it.
Industry observers believe that about 20% of New Jersey sports bets are made by New Yorkers who cross into the Garden State to wager on games. Should online sports wagering get the green light in New York, Marino said, visitor travel to brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City could see a measurable negative impact.
In December alone, New Jersey's casinos and horse tracks handled close to $1 billion worth of sports wagers, according to the DGE.
For 2020 as a whole, according to the DGE, Atlantic City's casinos saw a gaming revenue decline of about 17%. Today, they must still restrict operations to one-quarter of a full house.
"If the casinos had their wish, they'd be open at 100% tomorrow, but that's not going to happen," Marino said.
According to Marino, there's a general hope in the region that by July 1, efforts to battle the spread of COVID-19 — including vaccine distribution — will be enough to bring operations close to "full blast."
"If so, I think Atlantic City would have a tremendous surge of visitors — all this pent-up demand to get out of the house and do something," he said. "The summer also means the return of second-home owners throughout South Jersey."