August Sets Pennsylvania Record For Both Sports Betting And Online Casino Play

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The unusual COVID-created sports calendar in August led to a record month for legal sports wagering in Pennsylvania, with bettors risking $365 million collectively on the NBA, NHL, MLB, and other contests.

The record sports betting was part of a second straight strong month for Pennsylvania’s overall gaming industry, which overcame the effects of COVID-19 to show year-over-year revenue improvement — up nearly 6% to a total $310.7 million in August — thanks to all of the online casino gambling and sports betting taking place.

Sports betting at the nine online and 12 retail sites surpassed the prior high of $348.4 million in January, according to revenue figures released Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. That former record was set two months before the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most sports activity nationally and globally.

The strong resurgence in August shows the potential for massive sports betting numbers in the fall, as the NFL — America’s most popular betting sport — only just kicked off last week.

And specific to Pennsylvania, the new Barstool Sportsbook app from Penn National Gaming is launching this week and could greatly bolster the betting handle and revenue numbers in ensuing months.

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August also provided a record $55.9 million in iGaming revenue in the state, nipping May’s $55.8 million. The new high partly reflects continued growth in availability of online slots, table games, and poker, as there are now 12 different sites in Pennsylvania.

Retail slots and tables down $50m from last August

The revenue figures once more showed some of the land-based casino industry’s struggles in the face of COVID health concerns, 50% maximum occupancy limits, and restrictions on smoking and alcohol service on casino floors.

Slots revenue compared to August 2019 was down 19% to $167 million. The only casino to show an improvement in slots revenue compared to a year ago was Mount Airy Casino Resort, somehow up 8.6%.

Table games revenue at the 12 casinos, meanwhile, was off 14.5% from a year ago, to $65.1 million. The exceptions able to draw more revenue despite social distancing requirements that limit positions at the tables were Harrah’s Philadelphia, up 19.1%; Presque Isle Downs & Casino, up 6.1%; Mount Airy again, up 5.7%; and Hollywood Casino, up 2.4%.

Even though the collective take from people showing up to play slots, blackjack, roulette, and more was about $50 million less this August than last for the casinos, they also were spending less for payroll and amenities and might find the figures highly acceptable, considering what their online operations are providing.

Online made up 88% of sports bets

Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not break down sports wagering handle and revenue by sport, but clearly the overlap of so much major competition in the same month had an impact.

While retail sportsbooks might not have been as full of customers as they would have been pre-COVID, gamblers eagerly and safely took to their smartphones and desktops.

Just over 88% of the sports wagering total, or $321.6 million, was placed online. As in the past, FanDuel dominated with 45% of the online betting handle, and second-place DraftKings was far ahead of all other competitors with 27%.

Revenue from all of that sports betting amounted to $18.3 million for the sportsbooks. It would have been $9.3 million higher, but they gave away that amount in promotional credits. Those were mostly giveaways from FanDuel and DraftKings in their heated competition with one another, as each showed about $3.6 million in credits to customers.

While retail sports wagering doesn’t come close to the amount online, sportsbooks within casinos more than quadrupled their betting activity in August compared to July. The retail handle was up to $43.4 million, and again, that is a figure likely to only go higher during football season.

Similarly to Pennsylvania, neighboring New Jersey set its own record for sports handle in August — and a national record at that — with $668 million wagered. That’s nearly twice the amount as in Pennsylvania, but New Jersey has more sportsbooks, they started earlier, and they receive action from New Yorkers crossing state lines to place legal bets.

iGaming revenue plateauing above $50m monthly

After a massive surge in iGaming, or iCasino, play early in the pandemic, the state’s online/mobile sites have settled in at monthly revenue a little above $50 million.

While August set a new high, that was bolstered by the first full month of such revenue for Wind Creek Bethlehem ($213,648) and three weeks of initial operation by the PlayLive! site ($25,091).

The two sites on the license of Rivers Philadelphia — PlaySugarhouse and BetRivers — combined for $17.1 million in iGaming revenue. (Figures are not provided separately for multiple sites on the same license.)

Two sites on the Hollywood Casino license — its own operation and that of DraftKings — amounted to $11.8 million in revenue.

FanDuel’s site made $8.7 million from interactive gaming, and Parx made $7.5 million.

PokerStars continues to be the only poker site in the state, and its poker revenue was down to $2.7 million in August from nearly $3 million in July.

A good month for a state reliant on taxes

The biggest thing that government officials care about in all this is tax revenue, as Pennsylvania relies more heavily on gaming taxes than any other state, which has created a huge budget hole from COVID’s impact from March-June.

Money is flowing into the state treasury once again from the activity, though, with $128.8 million in state and local tax revenue collected in August from that overall revenue of $310.7 million.

Included in that overall revenue figure was $2.1 million from fantasy sports contests (with DraftKings and FanDuel representing nearly all of the amount) and $2.2 million from VGTs in operation at 36 truck stop locations across the state.

Photo provided by Shutterstock

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at [email protected].

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