ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) – Players eager to play slots and table games in person after a year of coronavirus restrictions are taking the U.S. casino industry to its best year ever.
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 an all-time high.
Data released Tuesday by the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group, shows US casinos had their best second quarter in history, at $ 13.6 billion.
The report also shows that the industry nearly matched any US casino revenue in 2020, amid widespread casino closings and restrictions that persisted even after they reopened.
It’s clear that 2021 could be the best year in US casino history. Gaming centers are on track to surpass 2019 ($ 43.6 billion) as the highest grossing year of all time. Almost $ 25 billion has been 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 rear view mirror, but I have no doubts that the record for the first half of 2021 has laid a solid foundation for the full recovery of the industry.
The more contagious delta variant of the virus, which became an aggravating problem late in the second trimester, now accounts for most new cases in the United States
“We’ve definitely had a setback with the Delta variant and some issues with the vaccinations, but I think we’re going to get there,” he said. “As an industry, we have focused very strongly on ensuring that we provide both a safe environment for our employees and our guests.
“We also continue to listen to where our government leaders tell us what to do,” he said. “I was in Las Vegas about two and a half weeks ago to attend a few different trade shows. During this time, if you were vaccinated, you did not have to wear a mask. The focus has changed. There may well be some guidelines that change a few more times. ”
Many players say they are happy to be able to visit casinos in person this year after enduring pandemic shutdowns.
” I am not concerned ; I’m vaccinated, ”said Jeanne Bachard of Bridgeport, Connecticut. “I live by the rule, I will take care of myself and not worry 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 immunized 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 visited the casino twice a month before the pandemic. He has started to leave again now that he is vaccinated.
“When I go now, I always mask myself to reduce the risk of getting and inadvertently transmitting to those who aren’t vaccinated, especially those under the age of 12,” Brandon said.
The association said casinos remain open with no capacity restrictions in the 25 states that currently have commercial casinos (those that are not run by Indian tribes).
Twenty-two of those states saw their gaming revenues increase 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 surpassed 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 the in-person game that is 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 was down 8% from the previous quarter to $ 889 million, due to a calmer sports schedule.
Internet gambling revenues also had a strong second quarter, reaching a new quarterly revenue record of $ 901 million, up 15% from the first quarter of 2021.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.