US casinos match best quarter ever; post-COVID hopes rise

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — America’s commercial casinos matched their best quarter ever in the first three months of this year, as customers continued returning amid the COVID-19 pandemic and internet and sports betting money helped boost revenue numbers.

Figures released Tuesday by the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group, show the nation’s commercial casinos took in over $11.1 billion in the first quarter of this year.

That matched the industry’s best quarter in history, the third quarter of 2019. The figures do not include tribal casinos.

The 2021 first-quarter revenue numbers represented a nearly 18% increase over the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic began to take hold nationwide, and an increase of more than 4% from the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic began.

The numbers were even more heartening to industry executives because they came while most casinos were still operating under capacity restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.

“Today’s report shows gaming’s comeback is ahead of schedule,” said Bill Miller, the association’s president and CEO. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our industry has faced numerous challenges head-on while still reopening responsibly and providing a safe, exciting environment for customers. The gaming industry is generating these impressive results with one hand tied behind our back as capacity and amenity restrictions remain across the country.”

Terry Glebocki, CEO of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, said customer volumes at her property have been increasing this year, due in part to a multimillion-dollar reinvestment the casino is making.

But there is another factor at play as well, she said.

“I do think we’re seeing more and more people feeling more comfortable coming out” to casinos, she said. “There’s a ton of pent-up demand out there. People want to go out and have fun, and that’s what you do at a casino.”

Traditional brick-and-mortar casino games generated 90% of their first-quarter 2019 revenue. March was particularly strong, with revenue from slots and table games coming within 1% of March 2019 totals.

Sports betting revenue set a new quarterly record this year at $961 million, up 270% from a year earlier, and surpassing 2019’s full-year total of $909 million.

Helped by the successful opening of online casinos in Michigan, internet gambling generated $784 million nationwide in the first quarter of this year, more than three times the amount from a year ago.

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