NJ casinos post $4.7B in 2021 amid COVID reopenings, variants

Gaming palaces take in 64.5% higher haul than in 2020

Daniel J. Munoz//January 18, 2022

NJ casinos post $4.7B in 2021 amid COVID reopenings, variants

Gaming palaces take in 64.5% higher haul than in 2020

Daniel J. Munoz//January 18, 2022

New Jersey’s casinos raked in $4.7 billion in 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and the industry rode out highs – and lows – of the pandemic from the delta and omicron variants.

That’s according to figures released by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement last week, which show that the state’s nine gambling palaces brought in 64.5% more than in 2020 and 36.57% more than the nearly $3.5 billion from 2019, before the onset of the pandemic and its litany of related closures.

“These results are a remarkable achievement for Atlantic City in light of the lingering pandemic,” reads a prepared statement from James Plousis, who chairs the state’s Casino Control Commission, another regulatory body.

Atlantic City boardwalk with several casinos in the foreground.
The Atlantic City boardwalk. – MEET AC

Most industry insiders typically omit 2020 numbers when presenting comparisons, given that the casinos were closed from March until July that year, and then operated at reduced capacity for the remainder. Other ancillary businesses inside the casinos – including gyms, salons, restaurants, entertainment and retail – also had to shutter in the spring 2020, and then operated at reduced capacity later that year.

Brick and mortar wins slowed last year, according to the Jan. 14 numbers from state gaming regulators, coming within 95% of 2019 levels: Whereas patrons bet nearly $2.7 billion while down in Atlantic City then, last year they bet just $2.55 billion, according to the NJDGE.

Visitors wagered nearly $11 billion at the state’s sportsbooks in 2021, $9.9 billion of which was through online and mobile apps and the remaining $1.1 billion in-person.

Sports wagering brought in nearly $816 million of casino revenue last year, compared to nearly $300 million in 2019.

Despite a physical return to Atlantic City’s casinos in 2021, much of their good fortunes came from online and mobile app gambling, according to the NJDGE. Internet gaming win was $1.36 billion in 2021, compared to $482 million in 2019.

Jane Bokunewicz, Institute Coordinator & Associate Professor of Hospitality, Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.

“Atlantic City’s casino industry, like the region’s gaming hospitality and tourism businesses overall, has proven resilient, but still vulnerable to fluctuations in COVID-19 infection rates and caseloads,” said Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator at Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism just outside of Atlantic City.

“Even as other sectors of the gaming business, internet gaming especially, show significant and steady revenue growth, coronavirus surges and waves like the delta and omicron variants continue to prove an obstacle to sustained recovery for Atlantic City’s brick-and-mortar casino operations,” she said.

That was a point hammered by the casino industry as it lobbied in December for a litany of new tax breaks, and shifted public rhetoric away from optimism about 2021 and the COVID-19 reopenings. Then-Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a sponsor for the legislation, warned that as many as four casinos could shutter without the added state relief.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our industry in the New Year, our outlook remains cautiously optimistic for the upcoming year, as we saw increases from 2020 to 2021, and we anticipate the same for 2022,” reads a statement Jan. 14 from Joe Lupo, president of both Hard Rock Atlantic City, and the Casino Association of New Jersey.

Lupo pointed out that many of the casino’s online gambling profits are split among dozens of internet operators including FanDuel and DraftKings, even though the dollars are reported as profits of one of the nine casinos.