Buoyed by the first NCAA March Madness tournament in two years and a booming remote-services economy, online winnings for New Jersey’s nine casinos soared to an all-time record high last month, according to state gaming regulators.
That figure marks a 75.4% increase from last year when the casinos won just $64.8 million from their online business. The figure beats a previous record set in January when winnings totaled a combined $103.8 million.
All nine casinos had to shutter their brick and mortar operations between mid-March and early July of 2020, cratering casino revenue and forcing them to use online operations as a lifeboat. Any growth last year was driven almost exclusively through online sports betting and gambling, which served as a lifeline for casinos when their doors were closed.
“New Jersey bettors went to their phones, computers, and sportsbooks throughout March as the state bounced back to a big rebound in handle and revenue from February,” reads a written statement from Lou Monaco, an analyst from the Gambling.com Group.
Sports wagering numbers nosedived between January and February, from $985 million to $743 million, despite soaring interest in the Super Bowl.
Atlantic City and the casinos are well-positioned for increasing tourism as public confidence grows.
– James Plousis, New Jersey Casino Control Commission
In March, a combined $859.6 million was wagered at the state’s 10 in-person and 22 online sportsbooks. Of that, $780 million was online, and an estimated $442 million was on basketball.
“March represents a much-needed bounce back after a somewhat disappointing February,” said Dustin Gouker, an analyst for PlayNJ.com, in an April 16 email. “It will probably be until football season before the state gets that first $1 billion month.”
The total sports betting handle – or how much was bet in a single month or year – hovered just below $1 billion in late 2020, despite never pushing past the threshold.
James Plousis, who heads the state’s Casino Control Commission, suggested that March 2020 and 2021 were not comparable given last year’s closures, and that a comparison with March 2019 would paint a more accurate picture.
During that month, the state’s seven online casino operations won a combined $39.1 million.
“Atlantic City and the casinos are well-positioned for increasing tourism as public confidence grows,” Plousis continued.
Casinos are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, as are their restaurants and retail operations. Indoor and outdoor venues, such as concert halls, were recently allowed to expand capacity, and warmer weather has meant many restaurants can once again expand their larger-capacity outdoor footprint.
“It seems clear that future success for the industry depends on optimizing both on-site and online offerings,” said Jane Bokunewicz, who heads the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.
The closure or reduction of in-person operations at the Atlantic City casinos – for food, hotels, retail, conferences, events and entertainment – made the region’s unemployment rate among the highest in the nation.
Trade shows and meetings dropped by 89%, which meant nearly 600,000 fewer visitors to the city during the pandemic and the collapse of an estimated $260 million in visitor spending, according to an analysis the LIGHT Institute released March 16.
But brick and mortar winnings increased 25% between February and March this year, from $148.2 million to $184.9 million, according to NJDGE data.
The numbers, Bokunewicz suggested, indicated “that people are ready and willing to return to in-person gaming.”