PA Gaming Review: Revenue Tumbles In April As Casinos, Horse Tracks Remain Shuttered

Written By Kevin Shelly on May 20, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020
PA gaming revenue tumbles further in April

The new abnormal is clear from recent gaming news in Pennsylvania.

Last week brought home the pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on Pennsylvania’s gaming economy.

Land-based casino revenue and sportsbooks took a tumble April, official revenue reports show. At the same time, the online casino revenue report showed there are new opportunities.

Meanwhile, horse tracks are racing back to life overseas, at several US tracks, and all of PA’s border states.

However, not in PA. And that’s despite experience elsewhere showing racing can be done successfully and safely without spectators.

Finally, PA casinos are prepping for their returns, though without an answer as to when they can reopen.

Revenue took huge hits overall but online skyrocketed

Gaming revenue dropped a dramatic 51% from February to March, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). In April, casinos brought in zero revenue.

That meant total gaming tax revenue was down 84% year-over-year, comparing it with April 2019, the PGCB reported.

Likewise, there was a big drop for Pennsylvania sportsbooks.

Handle for April was just $46 million, down 65% from March. Revenue plummeted 58%, with the books only producing $2.8 million according to numbers released on Monday. By contrast, PA had posted a record-breaking month in January with $348.4 million in wagers and $22.8 million in revenue.

All land-based casinos closed since mid-March, which meant all the action was online.

PA online gaming skyrocketed as a result. From March to April, iGaming revenue jumped 73% from its previous best of $24.9 million.

Online slots, table games and poker totaled $43.1 million in April. That included poker’s best month ever with $5.3 million. Slots and table games brought in $37.8 million in April, easily besting the record $21.1 million set in March. Slot revenue more than doubled month-over-month, hitting $27.3 million.

Horse racing raring to run, but there’s a Wolf at the door

Racing shut down in Pennsylvania on March 16 and remains closed despite racing elsewhere. As a service to readers, PlayPennsylvania is following opening plans at tracks in PA, plus around the nation and the globe.

PA Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidance to tracks, so far, is scant but discouraging:

“We foresee horse racing reopening when counties enter the green phase, like other entertainment (casinos, theaters, etc.).”

By lumping tracks with casinos and theaters, critics believe Wolf has overlooked the fact that many tracks are running safely elsewhere in the US, just not with spectators.

PlayPennsylvania spoke to former Parx jockey Tara Hynes, who has safely run with protocols at a small course in Nebraska.

The obscure course became a big deal, with the daily handle topping $3 million. And it was done without virus issues, despite hotspots at two nearby food processors.

Casinos closed at least until they hit the ‘green’ phase classification

A handful of casinos, mostly tribal casinos in Oklahoma and small casinos in Deadwood, South Dakota, have reopened, but there’s no timeline for reopening gambling halls in PA.

PlayPennsylvania took a look at what’s been done elsewhere to reopen and how reopening might work in the Keystone State once the Wolf administration clears the way.

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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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