COVID-19 Causes US Commercial Gaming Revenues to Fall 31 Percent, Worst Year Since 2003

Posted on: February 17, 2021, 11:56h. 

Last updated on: February 22, 2021, 08:12h.

Thanks to COVID-19 and the shutdowns and restrictions it created in 2020, the US commercial gaming industry saw its worst year in 17 years. That’s according to data revealed by the American Gaming Association on Wednesday.

US Commercial Gaming
American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller gives the welcome address to the 2020 virtual Global Gaming Expo. On Wednesday, the AGA announced commercial gaming revenue fell more than 31 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: AGA/YouTube)

Commercially licensed gaming, which includes state-sanctioned casinos, retail and online sports betting, and iGaming operations, reported gross revenues of $30 billion. That’s down roughly $13.6 billion percent from 2019, a decline of more than 31 percent.

(T)hese numbers show the economic realities of COVID-19 and underscore the importance of targeted federal relief and ramped-up vaccine distribution to accelerate gaming’s recovery in 2021,” AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement.

The $30 billion in revenues – technically $29.98 billion before rounding – was the lowest amount generated since 2003, when commercial operators won $28.7 billion. Back then, though, only 11 states had legal gaming, according to the AGA. Some type of commercial gaming was available in 29 states and the District of Columbia last year.

Revenues declined for the first time since 2014.

Casinos Lost Quarter of Operational Days

The pandemic forced all brick-and-mortar casino activity across the US to cease by late March. While most resumed operations by May or June, they have done so with far fewer table seats and slot machines in an attempt to abide by social distancing guidelines in their jurisdiction.

So, it shouldn’t be shocking that the percentage of casino days lost nearly lines up with the revenue drop.

In the 25 states with commercial casinos, those venues lost more than 45,600 operating days combined. That’s a 26.7 percent loss of the available days.

New Mexico saw a loss of nearly 80 percent of its commercial operation days. After New Mexico were New York (48.4 percent of days lost), Michigan (47.6 percent), and Illinois (40.2 percent). New York shut down their commercial casinos for six months in 2020. Michigan and Illinois each had more than one period where their brick-and-mortar venues closed during the year.

In Nevada, commercial casinos lost a total of 21,538 days, or 26.8 percent of the total possible days available. Most major casino operators reopened in June, but those with multiple properties on the Strip reopened those properties in phases as demand picked up.

Sports Betting, iGaming See Sharp Increases

Not all news was bad for the commercial gaming industry in 2020. While COVID-19 crippled the retail side, it also presented a huge opportunity for iGaming.

Revenue for online casinos and card games shot up significantly last year. The nearly $1.6 billion in gross gaming revenue represented almost a 200 percent increase from 2019.

For perspective, sports betting generated more than $1.5 billion, a nearly 70 percent jump from the year prior. While those revenue numbers are almost identical, it took sports betting licensees in 18 states and DC to generate that revenue. On the other hand, iGaming derived its revenue from four states (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia).

Obviously, the casinos’ closures had some impact on the dramatic increase. However, the results were still significant enough for some states, such as Indiana, to consider legalizing iGaming this year.