New Jersey’s gambling and casino industries saw steep drops across the board in March, according to state gaming data, following the March 16 closure of all the state’s casinos, and cancellations of university and professional sports leagues in a bid to stomp out the spread of COVID-19.
The caveat was online gambling, with patrons staying home because of Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order, which still saw patron bet money online. Gamblers won $171.9 million through online gaming compared to $104.5 million the year before, or a 64.5 percent jump in winnings, according to data released April 15 by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“As a surprise to no one during this crisis, the March revenue numbers show the dramatic impact of the closures,” James Plousis, who chairs the Casino Control Commission, said in a Wednesday afternoon statement.
Total revenue for the state’s casinos and gambling sites was $163.5 million in March 2020, compared to $294 million the prior March, or a drop of 44.4 percent. Casino win was $85.5 million this March, compared to $223.2 million the previous year, or a 61.7 percent drop.
All told, that spelled out a steep drop in gambling taxes for the state: $17.6 million this March, compared to $25.5 million in the prior year.
“New Jersey’s online casinos are a boon to the gaming industry, which employs thousands and generates millions in tax revenue for the state,” wrote Dustin Gouker, an analyst at PlayNJ.com. “But it’s not enough to fully bridge the gap from the revenue lost from sportsbooks and Atlantic City’s land-based casinos.”
And the total sports handle in March was $181.9 million, compared to $494.8 million the month before in February. The NCAA cancelled March Madness, while professional and collegiate athletic leagues across the country suspended or delayed their spring seasons.
The NBA pushed off its 2020 season, as did the Power Five conferences: The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) all cancelled their athletic tournaments, or postponed them either until a later date or indefinitely.
“Until sports are able to get going again, New Jersey’s online and retail sportsbooks will continue to be uncomfortably quiet,” added Eric Ramsey, another PlayNJ.com analyst.
The hardest hit Atlantic City establishment was Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, which saw a 63.9 percent drop in the past 12 months: $5.6 million this part March compared to $15.4 million last year.
Following Bally’s, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City saw a 63.4 percent drop year over year: $9.7 million this year compared to $26.6 million in March 2019. Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa saw a loss of more than $30 million, or 51.3 percent: $32 million this March compared to $65.7 million in March 2019.
In March, the American Gaming Association estimated that a shutdown of just two months for the state’s nine casinos could spell a loss of $1.1 billion in economic activity and leave nearly 33,300 people in the state without a job.
The number took into account direct and indirect commerce, including gambling, food and beverage, and hotels, as well as the supply chain and loss of income for tens of thousands of state residents.
“The impact on our employees, their families, and communities is staggering, and the implications extend far beyond the casino floor,” AGA President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Miller said last month.
And the impact could be felt in cash-strapped Atlantic City, one of the poorest municipalities in the state, which has struggled to shift its economy beyond just gaming and casinos.
That dependency led to the near collapse of the city’s finances in the mid-2010’s when the city saw the closure of five of its casinos, leading to an ongoing state takeover that began in 2016.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:58 p.m. EST on April 15, 2020 to include comments from analysts at PlayNJ.com, additional data points for specific Atlantic City casinos, and comments and information from the American Gaming Association.