[toc]In what is beginning to become an alarming trend, Pennsylvania casinos have reported modest-to-moderate declines in slot revenue in each of the past six months.
This wouldn’t be too bad if there were a foreseeable end in sight.
But with the revitalization of Atlantic City coming into focus, and new commercial casinos popping up in nearby New York, there’s reason to suspect that the down arrows will grow longer unless the industry steps up its game.
March PA casino statistics tell an accurate tale
This represents a significant improvement over February, when slot revenue was down nearly four percent. However, 2016 was a leap year, which made February’s year-on-year decline look more severe than it actually was.
By contrast, March’s decline is a true representation of the state of the industry, as both March 2016 and 2017 shared the same number of weekend days.
In total, the industry’s 12 land-based casinos generated nearly $210 million in slot revenue, down from $211.3 million in March 2016. Losers outnumbered winners by a slim margin of seven to five.
Winners and losers
The state’s two biggest earners, Parx Casino and Sands Bethlehem, were both modest losers last month. Parx Casino slot revenue was down 0.70 percent, while Sands absorbed a 0.87 percent decline.
But the biggest losers were two smaller casinos:
- Mohegan Sun Pocono, which is in the midst of reinventing itself, saw its slot revenue dip 6.94 percent to $18 million last month. The casino is in danger of losing its seventh place position to SugarHouse Casino, which continues to thrive, showing gains of 3.4 percent to $17.1 million in March.
- Presque Isle Downs revenue fell an alarming 6.97 percent. At, $9.49 million generated in March, it produced less slot revenue than all but the state’s two Category III casinos.
Harrah’s Philadelphia and Meadows didn’t exactly have cause to celebrate, either. Each saw its slot revenue dip by nearly three percent. Mount Airy Casino rounded out the losers bracket, with a modest 0.49 percent annual drop.
On the plus side
- Category III casino Valley Forge had a solid month, showing gains of 6.27 percent to $7.26 million.
- Rivers Casino, Penn National, and Lady Luck Casino join SugarHouse and Valley Force as winners. Each casino increased their year-on-year slot revenue by three percent or more.
March the least bad of the bad for PA gambling revenue
If there is one positive takeaway, it’s that March’s decline wasn’t as severe as it was in previous months.
The downtrend began in October, before coming to a head in December, when slot revenue was down 6.17 percent.
The industry rebounded slightly in January, when slots generated just 2.44 percent less than the year prior. February brought some more healing, as normalized revenue was down just 0.5 percent.
At less than one percent, last month’s decline was on par with February’s — small enough that it could be chalked up to the normal fluctuations of a stable industry.
But therein lies the problem. In a best case scenario, the Pennsylvania casino industry has stabilized, with little prospects of growth unless major changes take place.
The worst case scenario is far more dire.
PA online gambling could reverse the narrative
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania casino industry is facing much larger threats that stand to compound its recent declines.
- Atlantic City casinos are pouring money into renovations and non-gaming amenities. In all likelihood, some former patrons than abandoned the boardwalk city in favor of Pennsylvania casinos will return.
- The New York commercial casino industry is blossoming. Cannibalization by NY casinos probably won’t be too much of an issue for Pennsylvania. But it certainly won’t help matters either.
- The Pennsylvania Legislature is currently debating the merits of legalizing video gaming terminals (VGTs) at bars, truck stops, and off-track betting facilities. Even if the tax rate on slots was lowered from 34 percent to 29 percent to offset the impact of VGT cannibalization, we project that PA casinos would still net less from their slot machines than if the proposal (HB 1010) were shut down.
One means by which Pennsylvania can combat these negative forces is to legalize online gambling.
In New Jersey, online gambling has proven to have a complementary, not cannibalistic, impact on industry revenue. Last year, Atlantic City posted its first win in nearly a decade. This was largely thanks to the growth of its online vertical. This, despite the closure of the Trump Taj Mahal last fall.
Our projections show that in year one, PA online gambling will generate $230 million in revenue.
Assuming — very conservatively — that online slot revenue only comprises 60 percent of that figure, and online gambling results in flat slot revenue for the state’s land-based casinos, we’re still talking about an average increase in industry slot revenue of $11.5 million per month.
That’s more than enough to turn any of the year-on-year declines the industry has incurred in the past six months from a negative to a positive.