In-person gamblers drive US casino market to best year ever

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ATLANTIC CITY, NJ >> Players eager to hit slots and table games in person after a year of coronavirus restrictions bring the U.S. casino industry to its best year yet.

But the big unknown is whether a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 will slow down an industry that is now making money at a record pace.

Data released today by the American Gaming Association, the casino industry‘s national trade group, shows US casinos had their best second quarter ever, taking in $13.6 billion.

The report also shows that the industry nearly matched all U.S. casino revenue in 2020, amid widespread casino closures and restrictions that persisted even after they reopened.

It is clear that 2021 could be the best year in history for American casinos. Amusement arcades are on track to surpass 2019 ($43.6 billion) as the highest-grossing year ever. Nearly $25 billion was earned in the first six months of this year.

“These first half results are truly remarkable,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the association. “COVID-19 is not yet in the rearview mirror, but I am confident that the record first half of 2021 has laid a solid foundation for the full recovery of the industry.”

But the effect of the more contagious delta variant of the virus, which worsened at the end of the second quarter, is not mentioned in the report, and now accounts for most new cases in the United States.

Many gamblers say they are happy to be able to visit casinos in person this year after enduring pandemic closures.

“I am not concerned; I’m vaccinated,” said Jeanne Bachard of Bridgeport, Connecticut. “I live by the rule of taking care of myself and not worrying about how other people live their lives. I do what I feel is right for me.

Mike Wolk Sr. of Sewell, New Jersey is fully vaccinated and plays eight hours in a casino poker room once a week. He suffers from diabetes and prostate cancer.

“I’m not wearing a mask but I’m a little worried,” he said.

Gene Brandon of Ridgefield, Connecticut, said he used to go to the casino twice a month before the pandemic. He has started walking again now that he is vaccinated.

“When I go now, I always mask up to reduce the risk of inadvertently contracting and transmitting to those who are unvaccinated, especially those under 12,” Brandon said.

The association said casinos remain open without capacity restrictions in the 25 states that currently have commercial casinos (those not run by Indian tribes).

Twenty-two of those states saw an increase in gambling revenue in the second quarter compared to the second quarter of 2019, excluding last year’s comparison which is skewed by months of shutdowns. And 19 of 25 states exceeded their totals for the first half of 2019.

Sports betting and internet gambling helped keep the casino industry alive last year when physical casinos were closed. But it’s in-person gambling that’s fueling the industry’s recovery this year.

The AGA said this was due to the easing of COVID-related restrictions, as well as pent-up consumer demand.

Second-quarter sports betting revenue fell 8% from the prior quarter to $889 million, due to a quieter sports schedule.

Internet gambling revenue also had a strong second quarter, hitting a new quarterly revenue record of $901 million, up 15% from the first quarter of 2021.

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