Pennsylvania is the nation’s second-richest gaming state in terms of total gross revenue. But one analyst is concerned that some of the play has moved online permanently in the wake of the pandemic.
Deutsche Bank gaming specialist Carlo Santarelli is troubled that while some states are reporting better than pre-pandemic brick-and-mortar casino revenues, Pennsylvania is not.
Compared with 2019, gross gaming revenue (GGR) in 2021 at the state’s 14 commercial casinos was down 12 percent in March, up one percent in April, and down three percent in May. But Pennsylvania added two new casinos since 2019 — Live! Casino Pittsburgh, a satellite venue at the Westmoreland Mall, and Live! Casino Philadelphia, a full-scale casino resort in the city’s Stadium District.
Santarelli explains that for the 12 casinos that were operating in 2019, their 2021 GGR was down 22 percent in March, 10 percent in April, and 12 percent in May.
The headlines, however, read as peachy for Pennsylvania’s gaming industry. In May, Pennsylvania’s set its third consecutive monthly gaming record. So, where’s the money coming from? Online.
During COVID-19, iGaming reasonably flourished, as the state’s land-based casinos were forced to shutter. But as Pennsylvania emerges from the coronavirus, the trend among many gamblers seems to be staying online, rather than returning to a physical casino.
“We think it is worth considering the notion that the presence of iCasino in Pennsylvania could be stunting the casino recovery,” Santarelli wrote. “We continue to question just how different the customer is.”
Those customers, Santarelli reports, might be smart to stay home to gamble on their computer or smartphone. The Deutsche Bank note says Pennsylvania casinos are spending many more marketing and promotional dollars on their iGaming products than at their brick-and-mortar properties.
Though the convenience of a pocket casino is surely a strategic advantage, if you’re a slot customer, it appears the iCasino is actually the value play for your entertainment dollar as well,” Santarelli detailed. “Said differently, the entertainment dollar lasts twice as long in the iCasino environment.”
Deutsche Bank research concluded that land-based casinos in Pennsylvania are spending nine percent less on promos than they did during the same time period in 2019.
The potential cannibalization of brick-and-mortar casino gambling caused by online platforms, Santarelli believes, will caution other states in moving to legalize internet gambling.
Currently, along with Pennsylvania, only New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, and Michigan have iGaming with interactive slot machines and table games. Connecticut, pending federal approval, is set to become the sixth iGaming state by way of its two tribes. But beyond Connecticut, the prospects are slim, Santarelli opines.
Accordingly, we find the theme of the pandemic making iCasino legalization a likely source of funds for states far less likely now, post bailouts, than perhaps was the case 6-12 months ago,” Santarelli explained. “As such, we think the rollout of iCasino is likely to be a lot more challenging than most expect, and far more challenging than sports betting.
“As per our findings here, we also think there is some merit to cannibalization of traditional casino operations, which would thereby lessen the desire of certain casino operators that haven’t had success in iCasino, or aren’t well-positioned to succeed in the vertical, to push for legalization,” he concluded.