Atlantic City Casinos Preparing To Rebuild Positive Momentum In 2021

Posted By David Danzis on January 16, 2021

It should come as no surprise that Atlantic City gaming revenue declined in 2020.

The city’s nine casinos were closed for over 100 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. When the casinos eventually reopened, they did so without indoor dining, live entertainment or conventions. A 25% capacity limit has been in place since the summer.

Given all the industry endured in 2020, a 19.5% decline in year-over-year total gaming revenue was not unexpected. However, it is a result that could have been much worse if not for online casino and sports betting.

Breaking down total gaming revenue

Atlantic City’s casino industry reported $2.65 billion in total gaming revenue last year, according to data released Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. That figure represents combined revenue from casino win (table games and slot machines), NJ online gaming, and sports betting.

In 2019, the industry reported $3.3 billion in gambling revenue.

Eye-popping growth in NJ online revenue (+101%) and a sizeable increase from sports betting (+35.6%) helped cushion the blow from a $1.17 billion (-43.7%) drop in revenue of brick-and-mortar casino win in 2020. 

Internet gaming revenue accounted for $970.3 million, or 36.6%, of the industry total in 2020. Sports generated $166.3 million in revenue from both online and in-person bets.

2020 was a bust for Atlantic City casinos

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy ordered Atlantic City’s casinos to close on March 16. They were not allowed to reopen until July 2.

The nearly four-month shutdown of the casinos had a disastrous effect on annual table game and slot machine revenue.

Borgata, the last property to reopen, and Golden Nugget both saw their casino win cut in half. Borgata’s $337.6 million was still more than $110 million better than the closest competitor. However, it was 52.4% decline from 2019. The Nugget’s casino win fell 52.2%, from $199 million in 2019 to $95 million last year.

Hard Rock Atlantic City ($224.8 million, -30.6%) and Ocean Casino Resort ($183.6 million, -14.9%) reported the smallest declines. As a result, the two properties were second and third, respectively, in the AC market in table game and slot revenue.

The three Atlantic City properties operated by Caesars Entertainment Inc. all reported casino win declines of more than 40% in 2020.

  • Caesars, $151.2 million, -44.2%
  • Harrah’s Resort,  $165.9 million, -46.8%
  • Tropicana, $159.6 million, -47.3%

Bally’s casino win fell by 45.9% last year, from $176 million to $95.3 million. Resorts went from $176.4 million in 2019 to $99.5 million (-43.6%).

COVID stopped AC’s ‘positive momentum’

Until March, Atlantic City was riding a hot streak: 21-consecutive months of year-over-year increases in total gaming revenue.

NJ Casino Control Commission Chairman James Plousis lamented COVID-19’s impact on the gaming industry. He noted that entering 2020, “Atlantic City had marked four straight years of revenue growth and it was enjoying a lot of positive momentum.”

“Significant revenue was lost in those early months and, throughout the second half of the year, the resurging public health crisis continued to impact business in Atlantic City,” said Plousis.

In an interview with PlayNJ, Resorts CEO and President Mark Giannantonio described 2020 as “the most difficult experience that I’ve ever been through in 30-plus years of being in gaming.”

“However, I’m optimistic,” Giannantonio said, adding that once the COVID-19 vaccine has been widely distributed, Atlantic City casinos “will be well prepared to deal with (the) pent-up demand.”

Plousis said the city will be “ready to restore its recent positive momentum” as things return to some semblance of normalcy.

AC’s ‘silver lining’

Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, said she thought there could be a silver lining from 2020. The COVID crisis, she said, was “an opportunity to examine (businesses’) relationships with consumers and consider ways to serve them better.”

“Crisis has strained the industry, tested the resilience of many businesses, but it has also been the catalyst for significant changes, strengthening the industry and positioning it for successful recovery in 2021,” Bokunewicz said. “Once the vaccine is widely distributed and consumer confidence returns, Atlantic City will be ready to serve visitors’ pent up demand for human connection and quality life experiences.”

 

Photo by AP/Wayne Parry
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David Danzis

David Danzis is an award-winning journalist who has covered business, politics, government, education, and sports in New Jersey. Most recently, he wrote about Atlantic City casinos, online gaming, and sports betting for The Press of Atlantic City. David is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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