ccording to data released Tuesday by PlayPennsylvania.com, Pennsylvania's sportsbooks and online casinos returned to their record-breaking ways in December, setting fresh highs while combining for more than $100 million in revenue. The late-year push put the state's sports betting handle at more than $3.5 billion for the year, a shocking total for a closure-plagued 2020.
"Online betting, both on sports and online casino games, have been a crucial silver lining to what was overall a rough year for Pennsylvania's gaming industry," said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayPennsylvania.com. "Obviously, the growth online has come unfortunately as the retail market has faced pandemic-related shutdowns. But without the increase in online revenue, there is no telling how much weaker a position the entire industry would be in right now."
Pennsylvania's sportsbooks accepted $548.6 million in wagers in December, according to official data released Tuesday. December's bets were up 11.5% from $491.9 million in November and topped the record $525.8 million record set in October.
Taxable operator revenue hit $34.1 million, less than the record $37.4 million in November. The month generated $11.6 million in state taxes and $681,191 in local share assessments.
Compared with December 2019, December's handle was up 60.1% from $342.6 million while taxable revenue rose a whopping 199.4% from $11.4 million.
For all of 2020, Pennsylvania's retail and online sportsbooks produced:
Only New Jersey, which shattered a U.S. record with more than $6 billion in bets in 2020, and Nevada have collected more in bets this year than Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania is being challenged by Illinois, which reached $434.3 million in October.
"Pennsylvania and Illinois make for such an interesting comparison, because their markets are so similar, including a nearly identical population," said Valerie Cross, analyst for PlayPennsylvania. "Pennsylvania is still the more mature market, though, and is well poised to shatter just about every record it set in 2020."
97.6%, or $548.6 million, of all bets were made online in December, which was up from 91% in November. FanDuel Sportsbook/Valley Forge Casino became the first to top $200 million in online wagers in a month with $207.6 million in December, up 17.5% from $176.7 million wagered in November.
Retail sportsbooks, which closed on Dec. 12, fell to $13.4 million in bets from $45.1 million in December 2019.
Online casinos surge
Online casinos and poker took in $71.6 million in gross operator revenue, shattering the record $59.8 million set in November. That amounted to $2.3 million per day over the 31 days of the month, up from $2 million per day over the 30 days of November. December's revenue generated $19.3 million in state taxes and another $9.8 million in local share assessments and county grants.
Online casinos produced $680.2 million in revenue and $154.6 million in state taxes for the year.
"The late-2019 launch of online casinos proved to be fortuitous timing," Cross said. "The revenue lost from casino closures could not have been foreseen and not be completely replaced, but there is no doubt the launch of online gaming helped stem the losses and steady the industry."
Casino revenue drop
Due to the prolonged closure of gaming properties as a result of the pandemic, casino revenue fell significantly in 2020 in Pennsylvania.
State and local government collected $317 million less in tax revenue from gambling, down 22%, according to data released Tuesday by the state.
Pennsylvania generates far more tax revenue from the industry than, for instance, New Jersey, because of its higher tax rates, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Pennsylvania, which collected $1.1 billion in taxes last year compared to $1.4 billion in 2019, assesses a tax rate on slot machines at most casinos at about 52%, which includes 34% state tax, 2% local share assessment, 6% for the Economic Development Trust Fund, and about 10% for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund.
New Jersey taxes revenue from casino table games and slots at 8%, but internet games at 15%. So even though revenue from Atlantic City casino games declined by $1.2 billion last year, or 44%, internet gaming revenue doubled to $970 million, and generated more tax revenue for the state than casino games. The net result for the state treasury in Trenton was no change in tax revenue.
The 12 Pennsylvania casinos were closed about a third of the year to comply with lockdown restrictions and suffered from lower traffic when they reopened. Slot machine revenue, the big money-earner, was off 43% last year and table games revenue was down 44%.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia was closed for 165 days last year, the longest outage of any of the state’s casinos because Philadelphia imposed a stricter lockdown on businesses during the pandemic. Its slot machine revenue was down 55% and table games revenue was down 49% last year.