Figures previously released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board demonstrated COVID-19’s impact on gaming revenue in the state, and new ones Tuesday spelled out the pandemic’s toll on casino industry employees.
The gaming board’s annual report just released for the 2019-20 fiscal year showed there were 10,668 individuals employed at the 12 operating casinos as of June 30, down 6,049 — or 36.2% — from the year prior.
All of the state’s casinos shut down in mid-March due to COVID-related health concerns. They reopened on staggered dates, ranging from June 9 to July 17, but all with reduced workforces since the casinos faced new occupancy limits, reduced seats at slot machines and table games, and restrictions curbing normal operations of restaurants, poker rooms, entertainment venues, valet parking, and more.
Some employees have lost jobs permanently, but many remain on temporary furlough status, with the casinos stating they hope to recall more workers as conditions and revenue permit.
Calling recent year different is an understatement
The gaming board released revenue figures in July summing up the July 2019-June 2020 period as the first fiscal year since 2010-11 in which Pennsylvania gaming revenues failed to surpass $3 billion. Revenue from all types of gaming — both at brick-and-mortar casinos and online and at VGT truck stops — added up to $2.7 billion, off 17% from the $3.3 billion the year before.
That drop resulted in the state and local governments deriving $267.2 million less in tax revenue, a shortfall that has added to a challenging Pennsylvania budget picture that lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf still need to sort out this fall for the current fiscal year.
Summing up 2019-20 on behalf of the gaming board in the annual report, Chairman David Barasch stated: “To describe fiscal year 2019-20 as different would be a massive understatement. The health and safety restrictions needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic were debilitating for Pennsylvania’s land-based gaming industry. This led to significant revenue loss and temporary unemployment for thousands of industry workers.
“However, there was some good news, in large part due to legislative action that allowed legalized gaming to expand beyond casino walls. … We anticipate that Fiscal Year 2020-21 will see continued growth with the opening of several new casinos and additional online gaming.”
Brighter picture touted for 2020-21
By touting the expansion “beyond casino walls,” Barasch was referring to $240.9 million generated in the fiscal year from iGaming. He was also alluding to the fact that nearly 90% of the state’s legal sports wagering, which brought in $113.7 million in 2019-20 revenue, is done online.
As the report went on to state: “There was positive news in Pennsylvania on the gaming front during the COVID-19 shutdown. Online gambling, which had been rolled out over the previous nine months, grew. As one of only three states in the country to offer casino-type games during the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown of retail gaming, all online games, including sports wagering, was able to generate $130 million in tax revenue to offset losses.”
In his optimistic outlook for the new fiscal year, Barasch was anticipating the opening by year’s end of the Live! Pittsburgh mini-casino in Westmoreland County and completion in early 2021 of the major Live! Philadelphia hotel-casino project. Two more mini-casinos are to be completed by Penn National Gaming in York and Berks counties sometime in 2021.
Also, while additional online casinos and sportsbooks have already launched in the state since the last fiscal year ended June 30, still more are expected in late 2020 or in the first half of 2021.
Fewer casinos being fined for violations
The report summed up some other aspects of gaming board operations that do not ordinarily attract much attention, in the way that revenue figures or new operations of gaming sites do.
- The board’s Office of Enforcement Counsel found cause to penalize casinos just six times, for a total of $350,000 in fines from consent agreements, compared to 23 fines totaling $1.3 million in 2018-19.
- The board handled 793 patron complaints during the fiscal year, compared to 719 the year before.
- An additional 1,055 individuals with awareness of their own gambling problems signed themselves up for voluntary placement on self-exclusion lists, compared to 1,417 the year before. The lists now amount to 15,555 excluding themselves from retail casinos, 231 from iGaming, 91 from truck stop VGTs, and 54 from fantasy sports contests.
- A total of 75 individuals were newly placed on the state’s involuntary exclusion list barring them from casinos for various infractions, while 12 individuals’ names were removed and may enter the properties again.