Gambling is down, but casinos aren’t folding yet

March Madness was supposed to bring in major sports-gambling money. Now people are betting on table tennis and “Top Chef” instead.


April 7, 2020

As the nation shelters in place, it seems the cards are stacked against casinos. But if the house always wins, could there be an ace tucked in the industry’s sleeve?

This should have been a banner year for sports betting

It’s been almost 2 years since the Supreme Court gave the OK for states to legalize and regulate sports betting, and it’s taken off in a big way — sports gambling is now legal in at least 21 states and DC.

Even the stodgy NCAA came around: It abandoned rules keeping championships out of states allowing single-game wagers. March Madness was supposed to mean mucho money for some states.

  • Since it became legal in Iowa last August, bettors there have wagered $327m+ on sports.
  • Ameristar spent about $750k renovating space in the city of Council Bluffs, in anticipation of wagers bringing in millions.

But the basketball tournament was canceled and casinos — deemed nonessential — closed.

The gambling world is now in a world of hurt

According to the American Gaming Association, 987 of 989 US casinos had closed by early April.

  • In Las Vegas, ~206k casino workers have lost jobs.
  • The week after the Vegas closings, 92k+ Nevadans filed for unemployment — the most in the state’s history.

With fewer people venturing into convenience stores, even lottery ticket sales have taken a hit. To compensate, jackpots are getting smaller.

But the internet could sweeten the pot

Facing pressure to find new sources of tax revenue, more states might be amenable to allowing casinos to take games like poker, slots, and roulette online.

Last year in New Jersey — 1 of only 6 states to legalize online casino gambling — Atlantic City casinos and their partners raked in $483m from online games.

If you’d rather not wait for the sports world to start spinning again, you can still wager on Russian table tennis — or “Top Chef.”

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