While Pennsylvania “ums” and “ahs” about regulated online gambling, there certainly seems to be an appetite for brick-and-mortar table gaming, as the Gaming Control Board has reported record turnover in table games since their introduction in July 2010. In March, table-game revenue for the state’s 12 casinos and racinos grew by 1 percent from the corresponding period of 2013 – the previous record month – rising from $67.4 million to $67.9 million.
However, it wasn’t quite enough to offset the year-on-year decline of 4.2 percent for casino gambling overall, due mainly to the continued tumble in the popularity of slot machine gaming. Seven of the 11 casinos open in March 2013 and 2014 experienced a decline from the previous year, with some hit harder that others: turnover fell 9 percent at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
New Jersey Fight Back?
The first casino opened in the state in 2007, and Pennsylvania recently overtook neighboring New Jersey in overall casino take. However, there are concerns that New Jersey’s recent regulation of online gambling could be having an effect on the Pennsylvania market, as casinos in the eastern part of the state get a significant portion of their customers from New Jersey day-trippers.
“From our point of view, we don’t know – it’s too early to tell if it’s having any impact,” said Richard McGarvey of the Gaming Control Board. “There’s just no real good information on it, on who are the players, if they’re the kind of people who go to casinos or not.”
New Jersey casinos like the Borgata – which has a large market share of online gaming in the state – have underlined the marketing boon of their Internet gaming arms, which could be leaving Pennsylvania’s casinos at a disadvantage: “Online gaming is growing our database, creating a long-term opportunity to market Borgata to an entirely new group of customers,” Boyd president and CEO Keith Smith said recently.
The gaming industry eagerly awaits a report – due to be published on May 1st, by the Legislative Budget and Finance committee of Pennsylvania – which seeks to “analyze the potential impact of online gaming on the gaming industry, including the impact online gaming may have on the Commonwealth’s tax revenues and employment at the Commonwealth’s casinos.”
While this report will provide a clearer picture of the state’s future intentions with regards to online gambling legislation, there’s one factor which may swing things in the favor of regulation: the news that Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem is up for sale. The Sands was the casino with the largest table-game revenue in March, taking in nearly $15.3 million of the $67.9 million total, and is probably Pennsylvania’s most successful casino complex, with 3,000 slot machines and 200 tables.
While Pennsylvania is unlikely to legalize this year, the absence of Adelson’s influence in the state will certainly help matters move forward. Adelson had vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to combat the rise of online gambling in America and would likely prove to be a trenchant obstacle to any proposed legislation. Rumors that the Sands is soon to be sold to Tropicana Entertainment are yet to be substantiated.