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Pandemic pushes gaming revenue to 18-year low

One of the first official glimpses into the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on commercial gaming was revealed Feb. 17 and the view is as bad as many expected.

Commercial gaming revenue totaled $30 billion in 2020, a 31% drop from 2019. The American Gaming Association (AGA) through its “commercial gaming revenue tracker” reported the results. Seminole Gaming is one of the tribal casino operator members of the organization.

Last year represented the first market contraction for the U.S. gaming industry since 2014 and the lowest gaming revenue total since 2003 – 18 years ago.

One positive note from the AGA report was 2020’s fourth quarter momentum – a 1.7% increase in revenue over the third quarter. However, the nearly $9.2 billion Q4 revenue still represented a 17% decrease year-over-year.

“Covid-19 devastated our business and the employees and communities across the country that rely on casino gaming’s success,” AGA president and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement. “We have persevered by leading responsible reopening efforts, supporting our employees, and extending a hand to our communities. Still, these numbers show the economic realities of Covid-19 and underscore the importance of targeted federal relief and ramped-up vaccine distribution to accelerate gaming’s recovery in 2021.”

Non-revenue numbers in the report also tell the story. Commercial casinos lost 27% of normal operating days throughout 2020, due to mandated or self-imposed Covid-19 closures. To a lesser degree, there were also disruptions caused by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

The commercial gaming industry saw a 31% drop in revenue in 2020 due to pandemic-related casino closures and health and safety restrictions. (Courtesy AGA)

Commercial casinos were open (with significant capacity restrictions) for an estimated 124,882 days in 2020 instead of a potential 170,484 days – a difference of 48,602 days.

Hospitality and travel have been among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, which has put a strain on gaming’s ancillary businesses. Live entertainment, tourism and meetings and conventions – which can make up more than half of casino resort revenue – all came to a standstill in 2020 and is only now starting to shake loose, the AGA said.

Some light

Casino properties started reopening in mid-2020 and there were 911 out of 998 U.S. casinos open at the time the AGA’s report was published. AGA research also shows about one-in-three American adults plan to visit a casino in 2021 — near the highest rate since the group began tracking in March 2020.

In addition, about 80 percent of future casino visitors agreed that the industry has done a good job at safely reopening.

Gaming’s performance in 2020 was also buoyed by the growth of new options, the report noted. Legal sports betting delivered an all-time high of $1.5 billion in revenue, up 69 percent year-over-year, and iGaming revenue (poker, sports betting, online casinos) nearly tripled to almost $1.6 billion.

Thirty commercial gaming markets were operational in 2020, while seven jurisdictions launched legal sports betting markets and West Virginia launched a new iGaming market, the AGA said.

2019 was big winner

The 2020 report comes on the heels of data that showed 2019 was a banner year for Indian gaming.

The National Indian Gaming Commission reported late last year a record $34.6 billion in gross gaming revenues for the industry in fiscal year 2019 – a 2.5% increase over 2018.

It was the highest reported revenue in the 32 years since the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted, the NIGC said. The NIGC expects to have an idea of the pandemic’s particular impact on Indian gaming when the fiscal year 2020 results are released later this year.

The NIGC oversees the regulation of 527 gaming establishments operated by 247 tribes across 29 states.

For more, including the full AGA report, go to americangaming.org. More from NIGC is available at nigc.gov.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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