How are Land-Based Casinos Dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world, with more than three million total cases and over 300,000 deaths, according to the most recent statistics. Both total cases and deaths are expected to continue to rise over the coming months, particularly as the wait for an approved vaccine goes on.

Right behind public health and safety in people’s minds is the economic effects of the pandemic. Entire industries have grinded to a halt, most notably travel, entertainment, sports and any other sector that requires movement and social gatherings. Tens of millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, businesses have shut down, and the rate of poverty is on the rise.

The gambling industry offers an interesting insight into the current reality of self-isolation, working from home, lack of travel, and limited outdoor activity.

Gambling authorities around the world are, unsurprisingly, reporting huge revenue losses over the first quarter of 2020 in their brick and mortar casinos. New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which regulates the US state’s nine physical casinos, racetracks, and around two dozen online casinos registered in the state, is a case in point.

Closed since mid-March, New Jersey’s physical casinos reported losses of between 78.5 per cent and 99.9 per cent. In the worst example, Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino took just $20,095 in April 2020 compared to $14.5 million in April 2019. As a result, thousands of casino and hospitality workers have lost their jobs across the state.

Compare that to New Jersey’s online casino revenue: online gamblers took home $80 million in winnings in April 2020, a 118.6 per cent increase on the $36.5 million taken 12 months earlier. However, the entire New Jersey gambling sector still reported losses of 68.9 per cent, due to both the closing of casinos and the shutdown of professional sports.

It is a pattern that emulates itself across the United States and Europe. Las Vegas and Pennsylvania reported casino Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) losses of up to 50 per cent from February to March, while gaming supplier AGS – whose primary source of income comes from supplying slot machines and tables to land-based casinos – reported losses of more than $22 million in the first quarter of 2020.

However, online gambling continues to surge. While the online avenue of gambling has been rising year-on-year, as more people stay home and turn to online casinos, it has been one of the few industries to arguably benefit from the pandemic.

888 Holdings has seen shares increase by 32 per cent in value, while forecasts still expect the overall gambling industry to grow by 8.77 per cent between 2019 and 2024 even when considering the effects of the pandemic. This, experts believe, will be largely driven by online casinos such as TonyBet.com.

Not only is the online casino market benefiting from the amount of people forced to stay at home – and who are thus turning increasingly toward online options for entertainment and gambling purposes – but also from established land-based casinos who have been forced to go online and innovate to generate revenue.

For example, the World Series of Poker has transferred big events to online platforms on WSOP.com and partypoker, while Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City has become the world’s first online gaming provider to offer live slots on the Internet.

All of the signs and revenue reports make for grim reading for the future of land-based casinos, particularly as online gambling continues to rise, and land-based casinos go digital to generate income during this time.

Even when physical casinos begin to slowly reopen around the world, there are sure to be major restrictions that will limit earnings potential, such as 30 per cent capacity to adhere social distancing protocols. Given the enormous overheads of land-based casinos, it could be years until they are able to fully operate. By that time, many are likely to fold and thousands more jobs will be lost.

Indeed, a recent study by Synergy Blue called The Path Forward for Casinos in a Post-Covid World in which 1,000 gamblers were surveyed, offers an indication of the future of land-based casinos after the pandemic. Among the key findings include that only 40 per cent of older gamblers (over 60) will be comfortable returning to a land-based casino.

“The casino industry has been hit hard by the crisis and, with high levels of uncertainty surrounding the long-term impact, it’s difficult to map out the best path forward,” said Georg Washington, CEO of Synergy Blue.

Online casinos, by comparison, appear to have a much clearer path. While they, too, have been affected, particularly by the lockdown of professional sports, that is sure to be a short-term setback as pro sports gradually return to action.

The consequences of the pandemic on land-based casinos look set to cause far more damage. Only in time will the full effect of the damage be known.

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