December Was A Rebound For PA Sports Betting, A Leap For iCasino Play

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Though Pennsylvania’s casinos were dark for more than half of December, an online surge in sports betting and casino games resulted in record volume for the digital gambling formats.

The total sports betting handle in the state last month, as reported Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, was a record $548.6 million, up 11.5% from $491.9 million in November. It was additionally a 4.3% increase over the prior high of $525.8 million wagered on sports in October.

The state’s iCasinos, meanwhile, jumped 19.7% in revenue last month to set a new high of $71.6 million from their online slots, tables games, and poker play.

The digital play volume from people’s homes was likely boosted — as it was in the spring — by the shutdown of all of the state’s casinos Dec. 12-31 due to COVID-related safety precautions. One casino, Rivers Philadelphia, was closed all of December. The casinos reopened the first week of January, and a brand new one, Live! Philadelphia, was set to open at 4 p.m. Tuesday as Pennsylvania’s 14th.

The closures had a big impact on gaming revenue for the state, which totaled $168.7 million in December from all sources, a decline of 42.2% from December 2019. Tax revenue for state and local governments fell similarly, amounting to $67.3 million in December.

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Barstool, BetMGM had roles in betting rebound

Pennsylvania’s sports betting decline in November from October had been somewhat of a mystery, as it was atypical relative to most states. The December figures put it back on track, and the total would have been even higher if not for the shutdown of retail sportsbooks for more than half the month.

Unlike betting handle, the sportsbooks did not see increased revenue, which fluctuates from month to month based on factors such as the bettors’ success and the online sites’ promotional giveaways. Taxable gross revenue amounted to $34.1 million in December, down from November’s record $37.4 million.

With COVID shutdowns interrupting the 14 retail sportsbooks’ operations, the 12 online sites claimed a full 97.6% of the betting handle. Among the latter were two sites new in December: BetMGM, with $12.1 million in handle in two weeks of operation, and Betfred, which handled $99,309 in a little more than a week.

The biggest online sportsbooks remained the same — FanDuel, DraftKings, and Barstool, with the latter from Penn National Gaming showing the biggest jump among those in both handle and revenue.

FanDuel’s $207.6 million in handle represented 38.8% of the online market and DraftKings’ $130.9 million was 24.5% of it. Barstool, meanwhile, climbed 29% in December handle to $71.8 million, for 13.4% of the market.

Curiously, Barstool was the big revenue leader, earning $13.9 million — which amounted to more than the combined revenue for the other two with their bigger handles. It could be a one-month statistical anomaly, as Barstool did not generate more revenue than either of the bigger competitors in any of its three prior months of operation.

For online casinos, 13 proves a lucky number

In prior months, the state’s online casinos were consistently hovering near $60 million in revenue. With the help of a new 13th site from BetMGM, the figure spiked more than it had in months.

BetMGM totaled $5.7 million in revenue for the month, including several days of a test period that began Dec. 1. It was a productive introduction to a state in which it has no casino and has been advertising heavily since launch, though the revenue wasn’t close to that of the top operators.

The gaming board’s revenue compilation does not differentiate between the two Rush Street Interactive sites — PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers — and lumps them together as the top iCasino operator with $19.3 million in December revenue.

They are followed by DraftKings with $13.7 million, FanDuel with $11.2 million, and FOX Bet/PokerStars with $7 million. The latter remains the only poker site in the state, achieving $2.7 million in December revenue, up from the $2.4 million of the three prior months.

For the year, total gaming revenue was off 22.2%

The December report concluded a tough year for land-based gaming in Pennsylvania, considering all of the COVID-related shutdowns and restrictions on operations when casinos were open.

The December slot machine revenue of $42.2 million was down 77.5% from a year ago and table games revenue of $17.1 million was off 78.2%.

Overall, the state’s casinos were closed for a combined 1,473 days in 2020, or about one-third of the total possible, the gaming board reported.

Those, and the reduction in visitation when they were open, led to $2.65 billion in gaming revenue from all types for the year, a decrease of 22.2% from 2019’s $3.41 billion. That’s even though online revenue soared.

The gaming decline meant “only” $1.1 billion in tax revenue from the commercial gambling was collected by the state in 2020, compared to $1.42 billion in 2019. That total will still be more than any other state in the U.S. derives from taxing gambling.

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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 gary@usbets.com.

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