Pennsylvania’s COVID-Era Rise In Online Sports Betting And Casino Play Comes To An End

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The phenomenal growth of Pennsylvania’s sports betting industry finally ground to a halt in November, experiencing its first decline in the volume of wagers since major sports returned from COVID pandemic shutdowns.

The total handle of the 10 online and 14 retail sportsbooks last month amounted to $491.9 million, off 6.4% from October’s record $525.8 million, according to figures publicized Thursday morning by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The slowdown in sports betting covered both online/mobile transactions, which were down 5.3% from the month before, and retail handle, off 16.8%. The digital form of betting represents 91% of the money wagered.

The good news for the sportsbooks — though not necessarily their customers — was the operators’ revenue did nudge up 1.6% from the month before to a new monthly record of $37.4 million. That amount doesn’t count the $11.2 million in promotional credits the sportsbooks gave away to players.

The halt to a trend that had seen steady online gambling growth in Pennsylvania in prior months also affected the 12 iCasino operators. Their collective revenue of $59.8 million was a record, technically, but it was only $15,074 higher than October.

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Overall, when also factoring in COVID-related decline in revenue from slots and table games play inside casinos, Pennsylvania’s gaming industry generated $284.3 million in November revenue, a 2.7% drop from November 2019. That was counter to other recent months, when the boost in online sports and casino play resulted in year-over-year increases, including a record $320.2 million in October revenue.

FanDuel, DraftKings, Barstool all slid

There were few exceptions among the state’s sportsbooks to the decline in wagering, and that included regression for the biggest operators even though the popularity of NFL and college football wagering in November helped sustain growth in some other states.

Pennsylvania’s most popular online sportsbook, FanDuel, suffered a 2.4% decline to $176.7 million in handle, but maintained a robust bottom line with $15.1 million in revenue.

DraftKings’ November volume fell 9.2% to $109.9 million in handle, with $6.9 million in revenue.

And Penn National Gaming’s Barstool Sportsbook, in only its third month of operation, slipped 8.7% to $55.7 million in handle, retaining $3.5 million in revenue.

Combined, those three online books continued to represent more than 75% of the state’s total digital betting volume, with FanDuel claiming 39.5%, DraftKings 24.6%, and Barstool 12.4%.

The lone increases in handle among online sportsbooks were BetRivers, up 7.7% to $28.1 million; BetAmerica, up 4.9% to $1 million; and Caesars, up 0.5% to $1.1 million.

The only retail sportsbooks to experience an increase from October were Parx, up 12.8%; Meadows Racetrack & Casino, up 12.1%; and Mount Airy Casino Resort, up 9.4%.

Since the inception of retail sports betting two years ago, there has been close competition among Parx and the two affiliated Rivers Casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over which of the three attracts the biggest business with walk-in customers. With its November increase, however, Parx pulled well ahead of the others, with $9.2 million in betting handle compared to $8 million for Rivers Philadelphia and $6.9 million for Rivers Pittsburgh.

Online casino play was neither up nor down

Pennsylvania’s iCasinos had been on a considerable growth trajectory ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began keeping gamblers at home in the spring, but the 12 sites basically flat-lined in November.

The $39.4 million in online slots revenue was off slightly from October, but it was counter-balanced by a modest increase to $18 million in money earned from players’ losses at the online tables. The revenue from the one legal poker site, PokerStars, remained at $2.4 million.

The gaming board counts multiple iCasino sites together in its revenue report when they operate under the same license. On that basis, the combined PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers sites of Rush Street Interactive were the most successful in the state with $16.5 million in monthly revenue. The combined sites of Hollywood Casino and DraftKings Casino on Penn National Gaming’s license were close behind at $15.7 million.

With the addition of BetMGM’s online casino, which began operating in the first week of December, it’s possible that a boost in revenue will resume when this month’s figures are tallied. BetMGM is also launching its online sportsbook this week, which could help spark a turnaround in the state’s sports betting handle.

A bigger slide last month inside the casinos

The state’s 13 casinos, which now include the recently opened Live! Pittsburgh mini-casino in Westmoreland County, were closed by state order Saturday and cannot reopen until Jan. 4.

In November, their slots revenue within the properties declined 31.6% from a year ago, to $129.5 million, and table games were down 30% to $52.3 million. Those were bigger percentage declines than in prior months since reopening from the first wave of pandemic closures.

One factor was the Rivers Philadelphia Casino was closed by city order Nov. 20, so its slots revenue for the month was off 60% from a year ago. Multiple other casinos that remained open through November also had sharp downturns, however, with Valley Forge Casino Resort slots revenue down 45%, Lady Luck Nemacolin down 43.8%, Rivers Pittsburgh down 43%, and Presque Isle Downs & Casino down 42.3%.

One piece of positive news for future revenue is the Live! mini-casino achieved $2.3 million in revenue even though it was fully open to the public for just a week, suggesting such small-scale ventures could be successful. Four more mini-casinos are planned around the state.

Pennsylvania is more reliant on gambling for tax revenue than any other state, and when that revenue suffers, so does the amount going to state and local governments for various purposes. Overall gaming taxes in November amounted to $115.6 million, compared to $119.2 million a year ago.

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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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