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Pa. casino revenues return to pre-pandemic levels, but online gambling soars

Casinos are the latest industry that has experienced a substantial shift in business to online from retail locations due to the pandemic.

Morgan Sahm, a card dealer, awaits customers at a poker table surrounded by pandemic-era plastic shielding on the reopening day for the Rivers Casino Philadelphia on July 17.
Morgan Sahm, a card dealer, awaits customers at a poker table surrounded by pandemic-era plastic shielding on the reopening day for the Rivers Casino Philadelphia on July 17.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania casinos reported that revenue returned to pre-pandemic levels in July, but the numbers also show how dramatically legal gambling has shifted from brick-and-mortar casinos to the internet in the era of COVID-19.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Monday reported total gaming revenue of $283 million in July, up from $281.5 million a year ago, a 0.5% year-on-year increase that would be nothing to crow about during normal times. But it is remarkable because July was the first time since the coronavirus lockdown that most casinos were operating.

A significant amount of business has shifted from casinos to online platforms in the last year. Online slots, table games, and poker generated $54.4 million in July. Along with online sports betting, internet gaming generated $61.2 million in revenue in July, or nearly 22% of all casino gaming revenue.

Internet gaming generated less than $4 million statewide a year ago in July, just two months after Rivers Casino Philadelphia, then called the SugarHouse Casino, was the first casino in Pennsylvania to launch I-gaming. The timing of I-gaming’s launch was auspicious because online platforms provided the only gaming revenue for casinos during several months of lockdown.

The boom in online gambling offset substantial year-on-year declines in retail betting, as some customers remained at home even after most casinos reopened in June. Retail slots revenue, which accounts for more revenue than all other types of games combined, was down 17% from a year ago. Revenue from casino-based table games was down 32% from a year ago.

Online slots play has quadrupled since February, but growth seems to be slowing now that the casinos have reopened, said Max Bichsel, vice president of U.S. business for Group.

“While online casino activity approached an all-time high in July with $54 million in revenue, growth for that sector of gaming in Pennsylvania seems to be flattening after a big surge during lockdown,” Bichsel said in a statement.

Sports betting, which was in its infancy when the coronavirus shut down most professional and collegiate competition, was up 22% from June as major-league baseball and the NBA resumed games in late July. But it is still not up to pre-pandemic levels. About 84% of sports-betting revenue was generated online.

Among the state’s 12 operating casinos, there were winners and losers.

Parx Casino in Bensalem generated $59.9 million in revenue, up 14.4% from a year ago — it was one of only three casinos to report increases in retail slots revenue. Total revenue at Parx was more than double the next closest Pennsylvania casino, the Wind Creek Bethlehem, where revenue was off 38% from last year. The Bethlehem casino launched I-gaming only on July 24, so it has missed out on the online gaming boom.

Rivers Casino Philadelphia, which did not reopen until July 17 following four months of coronavirus lockdown, experienced big declines in retail slots and table games revenue since it was open only half the month. But the Philadelphia casino was the statewide leader in internet casino-type gaming revenue, pulling in $15.5 million in revenue, making up for much of its decline in retail business.

Valley Forge Casino Resort, acquired in 2018 by Boyd Gaming of Nevada, reported a 57.7% increase in revenue over last year, largely because of its successful association with FanDuel for online sports wagering and casino games.

Online gaming has become so alluring that the state’s 13th casino, the Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, announced on Monday that it has already launched its internet gaming platform, even though the physical casino is still under construction in South Philadelphia and will not open until 2021. The new gaming application can be accessed at

Revenue from gambling, either online or in the casino, tells only part of the story about the financial health of the state’s casinos.

Casinos do not report nongaming revenue to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, but earnings from the sales of food, beverage, and entertainment went to zero during the lockdown. Even though live customers have returned to casinos, most venues are limited by health department regulations and offer only limited food and beverage service, curtailing cash flow and inflicting continued workforce reductions.