Glass Half-Full For NJ Casinos In March, With Online Revenue Way Up To Help Offset Losses

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Well, at least Atlantic City casinos were open for half of March.

Still, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s announcement Wednesday of that month’s numbers — hampered by the need to close the casinos on March 16 to try to stem the flow of the COVID-19 virus — paled in comparison to other months.

Unlike most states, New Jersey offers online casino gambling as well as online sports betting. But brick-and-mortar remains the state’s gambling bread-and-butter, as the statistics showed.

With no NCAA men’s basketball March Madness this year — nor late-month Opening Days for the Mets, Phillies, and Yankees — nor traditional casino gambling for the last 15 days, casino revenue plummeted from $223.2 million in March 2019 to just $85.5 million last month.

Online casino revenue got a nice boost — up more than $25 million from March 2019 to $64.8 million last month. Online poker revenue, though still just a fraction of other forms of gaming in the state, nearly doubled, from $1.9 million in March 2019 to more than $3.6 million in March 2020.

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Sports betting, with so many events lost this year, dropped from $31.7 million in revenue in March 2019 to just $13.2 million last month.

The sports betting handle — the total amount wagered — was $181.9 million, with a record 89.8% of that bet online. The first-quarter parlay profit for the sportsbooks was 18.1%, well ahead of the overall 7.3% year-to-date hold.

How the NJ gambling pie is split

Here was the breakdown for January 2020:

  • $192.1 million from brick-and-mortar casino revenue (71%)
  • $55.1 million from online casino revenue (20.3%)
  • $23.4 million from sports betting, including betting on sports at racetracks or online with racetrack partners, but not betting on horse races (8.6%)

Then for February:

  • $218.3 million from casinos (79.3%)
  • $52 million from online casino (18.9%)
  • $4.8 million from sports betting (1.7%)

The latter figure is in significant part due to millions of lost revenue to New Jersey sportsbooks from the Kansas City Chiefs — led by former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid — rallying to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

And for March:

  • $85.5 million from casinos (52.2%)
  • $64.8 million from online casino (39.4%)
  • $13.2 million from sports betting (8.1%)

For the full year 2019, land-based casinos accounted for 77.5% of total revenue of $3.47 billion, followed by 13.9% via online casinos ($482.7 million) and 8.6% from sports betting ($299.4 million).

So January 2020 matched the annual 2019 total as sports betting accounting for that same 8.6%. And March 2020 was nearly the same, at 8.1%.

As for online casino revenue, March saw an increase of nearly $13 million over February — promising for a half-month without land-based casinos.

By the same token, the drop of more than 50% in sports betting revenue from the previous March confirms that the availability of “action” on Russian table tennis or Burundi soccer can take the state only so far.

A scary look ahead

In April 2019, New Jersey gaming revenue was as follows:

  • $207.6 million from land-based casinos
  • $36.6 million from online casino play
  • $21.2 million from sports betting

For April 2020, brick-and-mortar casino revenue will be … zero.

Online casino will be up, for sure. Can it double?

Sports betting will not be zero, thanks to all those offbeat sports. But will revenue be more than $5 million? Not likely.

The state took in $23 million in taxes from gaming last April. This April? If all goes “well,” it will take in at least 10% of that.

If it’s any consolation, neighboring Pennsylvania has a lot more to cry about due to its much higher tax rate.

The best thing Atlantic City casinos can hope for out of April is clarity by the end of the month on when their tens of thousands of workers can finally get back to work.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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