PA Gaming Review: Online Revenue Mildly Offsets Losses, Talk Of Reopening Begins

Posted on April 22, 2020

In the fifth week of virus restrictions, new realities have settled in for the Pennsylvania economy and gambling industry.

Sports betting revenue plummeted, with most competition halted and few betting options. And while physical casinos remain shuttered, online casinos and online poker are adding customers and revenue. Same with the lottery, which has seen sales drop at retail outlets while online iLottery traffic is up.

At least one member of the state’s horse racing commission believes it is time to at least discuss resuming meets, though without spectators.

And a PA state senator wants to temporarily redirect sports gambling revenue to property tax relief because so many residents are without incomes. He’s also calling for a reopening of businesses in the Keystone State, which would eventually include gambling halls. For now, the governor has pegged May 8 as the earliest date for lifting any restrictions.

Gamblers flock to online betting

The virus pandemic trimmed PA sports betting handle for March, knocking it down to $131.3 million. That’s a staggering 60% drop from $329 million in February.

The books produced $6.9 million in revenue. The majority of wagers, about 90%, were placed online. That should be 100% when April figures are released next month.

Meanwhile, online casinos set new records for revenue at $24.3 million.

That was while overall gaming revenue was down 51% month-over-month with land-based casinos shuttered since March 17.

Online casino revenue was up 24.5% over its previous high of $19.5 million in February. Slots and table games accounted for 19.7% of the increase, while a record online poker month made up the rest.

March had the most online slots and table games wagers to date with $871.6 million. That represents a 23.9% increase in play over the $703,559,106 wagered in February. Slots rose 51.5% while the amount bet at the tables increased 8.2%.

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iLottery buying saves the day in a bad month

The pandemic forced the closure of 30% of the 9,800 Pennsylvania Lottery retailers. Sales from traditional games dipped about 25%.

But Pennsylvania is one of only six states with an online lottery option, and lottery play in PA increased 30% online compared to prior weeks.

Still, overall revenue is down. The PA lottery continues to operate, which is especially fortunate as their revenue benefits older Pennsylvanians.

Time to discuss restarting horse racing, and perhaps more?

Dr. Mark Egloff, a member of the PA Horse Racing Commission, hopes to discuss the resumption of races, but without spectators, at the next commission meeting on April 29.

Egloff, an equine veterinarian and the owner of a large horse farm in Gettysburg, pointed out that the nature of stables and their support systems means “you can’t shut the doors” to a horse barn.

The backsides of some shuttered PA tracks remain filled with people and horses. And live racing has continued at a handful of US tracks and elsewhere around the world, without crowds in attendance.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano has proposed temporarily allocating sports betting revenue for property taxes, given the job losses brought on by the virus.

The politician is also pushing for the reopening of businesses in PA, which would presumably include casinos. For now, casinos remain closed until at least May 8.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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