NJ Sets Sports Betting Record, Shows How Casinos Can Keep Afloat—And Then Some—During Pandemic

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Atlantic City casinos were only open to 25% capacity again last month, yet the nine casinos took in 3% more gross gaming revenue than they did the previous September when there were no such limitations.

How is that possible? It’s all thanks to online casino gaming.

While brick-and-mortar slots and table game revenues were down by $33.9 million (to $190.6 million) compared to September 2019, online casino brought in $87.6 million in September 2020, $46.5 million more than a year ago.

Sports betting revenue for the casinos actually shrunk by a modest $4.1 million, to $13.5 million last month. The Meadowlands Racetrack, however, jumped almost 50% from such betting to $28.2 million (that does not include horse racing wagers).

The number that will generate the most attention is sports betting handle. New Jersey’s casinos, racetracks, and online sportsbooks attracted $748.6 million of action during the first month of NFL games, a new record for a single month in any legal betting state.

A high in the 80s

The consistency of the online casino numbers is mind-boggling.

The revenue figures for the last five months of 2019 all were between $41 million and $49 million. After starting 2020 with two months in the $52 million to $55 million range, March’s half-month of casino closures due to COVID-19 led to a jump in online casino to $65 million.

That number became $80 million in April, and it has stayed in the 80s ever since.

And while the temperatures will not be able to match those revenues as we get deeper into the fall, the online casino numbers are still going strong. Even with those partial casino reopenings, September brought in $87.6 million — versus $87.8 million in August and $87.5 million in July.

That sort of stability is even more encouraging for the casinos as they begin their “offseason.” In online casino play, there is no offseason.

So while the last three months of 2019 produced monthly brick-and-mortar revenues of $202 million to $224 million that likely will be difficult to match this year, a continued boost of about $40 million per month from additional online casino revenues should continue to level the playing field.

Not only roses for Atlantic City

Of course, the transition of revenues from in-person to online comes at a price for Atlantic City itself. Thousands of casino industry workers have not yet been rehired, including many poker dealers who so far can only watch as some Pennsylvania casinos just announced plans to resume those games beginning this weekend.

Those lost jobs lead to a loss of discretionary income, which leads to lower revenues across the spectrum from restaurants and florists and dry cleaners and beyond, as those spending options dwindle without a steady paycheck.

That’s why while the casinos may be able to hold serve on revenues this winter — including lower payrolls — the city itself needs, if it’s possible to do so safely, an increase in capacity.

While bumping up to 50% capacity won’t double either revenues or jobs, both would surely get a boost — again, if it is safe to do so.

Some September winners

Ocean Casino was up nearly 27% in brick-and-mortar revenue, to $26.2 million. Every other casino dipped in September-2019-to-September-2020 comparisons, though Caesars fell by just under 2%.

Borgata, while still the market leader as always, slipped by an industry high of 30.9% to $39.7 million. Ocean passed Harrah’s and Tropicana to claim third place in this category for the month.

Hard Rock, like Ocean a two-year-old casino built from the bones of defunct properties, was no. 2 at $28.6 million.

The rising online casino numbers lifted all boats — but especially Borgata’s, which leaped from just under $7 million to just over $20 million.

Golden Nugget kept its status as online casino market leader at $26 million, but these numbers may have executives hearing Borgata footsteps in the months ahead.

Finally, an elusive mark was cracked in sports betting in New Jersey in September, as 90.7% of money was wagered online. That figure has tended to be in the high 80s in previous months.

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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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