The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everyday life into chaos and created new paradigms that challenge long-held beliefs. While many industries have been adversely affected by the shutterings of traditional businesses, gaming has seen a digital revolution to soften the blow of closed casinos and sportsbooks.
Online outlets have spread to new states and players have gotten in the game. Colorado launched legal sports betting on May 1. In addition, players have flocked to online play in New Jersey and elsewhere, bucking the trend of balance between retail and digital that existed in Nevada before 2018’s expansion. States that noticed this trend and offered both options for players have benefited with some revenue coming from online play, needed when casinos and other major businesses sit fallow during the shutdowns.
Some states – like Illinois and Iowa – mandate players go to casinos to sign up for sportsbooks accounts. However, the shutdowns have created workarounds for BetRivers Sportsbook to open the first online option in the Land of Lincoln.
Sportsbooks slowly reopening
The avalanche of closings in March has yielded to a trickle of reopenings. Las Vegas reopened its gaming mecca earlier this month, with limited capacity. Pennsylvania has seen Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh reopen, although their sister property in Philadelphia won’t welcome back players when the city goes “green” in July. Last week, Pennsylvania announced Parx Casino in Bensalem can reopen on June 26 at 50 percent occupancy, as will Harrah’s in Chester.
Atlantic City still awaits official word when casinos will reopen. The shore resort saw the New Jersey Senate pass a major relief bill that will provide no-interest loans and grant money, along with tax breaks, to help the major employers that have been closed since March. Many casinos have plans for the date, projected around the Fourth of July.
Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks still matter
While most of the handle in new states have been online, retail locations still matter to gaming companies. Parx opened a massive new location last August, weeks after the Borgata in AC opened its Moneyline venue for sports betting. Despite the lower margin they produce, sportsbooks hold prominent locations on casino floors, with comfortable seating, access to food and beverage, and even premium options for groups.
Retail books will be a major draw for people to return to casinos. As the hot weather comes in the summer, along with the return of most North American major leagues, players will look to get out of the house and watch multiple games at once in fun atmospheres. Capacity will certainly be tested at FanDuel’s location at the Meadowlands, especially if New Yorkers can’t escape the heat to the beaches or the Hamptons.
There’s a tricky balance the coronavirus has created: is travel and going out for recreation worth the risk of getting sick?
When the casinos open in New Jersey and elsewhere, expect the owning companies to take extra precautions to keep players safe. Many rely on older clientele for their day-to-day business so it will be interesting to say how that demographic reacts. When players do return, expect more handle at the retail locations with more sports to play and more people looking to get involved.