By Aara Ramesh
In a heartening sign, the commercial gaming industry posted record revenues in Q1 2021, the American Gaming Association (AGA), the casino industry’s national trade group, announced on Tuesday, May 11. With intakes soaring above $11 billion and a 21.1% increase in revenues over Q4 2020, it seems like the comeback is truly on.
According to the AGA’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker, the income generated in the first three months of 2021 matches the industry’s best-ever quarter — Q3 in 2019. This represents a 4.1% increase over pre-pandemic performance in Q1 2019 and a whopping 17.3% increase over Q1 2020, when casinos were forced to shut down as the pandemic began to ravage the country. Of the states with commercial casinos, half reported quarterly gaming revenue increases over Q1 2019. March was particularly good, with 12 states reporting their highest-grossing monthly gambling revenue that month.
This recovery, which is ahead of schedule according to experts, has been largely driven by sports and internet betting. This is hardly surprising, given that most professional sports leagues are on track, and many states still have rules in place prohibiting large gatherings. Over the past year, people have been spending more time indoors and online, meaning that many have turned to iGaming as an alternative to playing the slot machines, as it were. Sports betting revenue in Q1 set a quarterly record, up a staggering 270% over the same period last year, and outstripping 2019’s full-year total.
What is sure to be especially encouraging, however, are indications that in-person commercial gaming is also making an accelerated recovery. In particular, the March 2021 revenue for slots and table games fell short of March 2019 totals by just one percent. The reason why this is welcome news is that many states still have Covid-19 capacity restrictions in place. While 97.8% of all commercial casinos in the US were open by the end of the quarter, most were still operating under 100% capacity. In fact, 14 of the 25 states with commercial casinos, which represent over 75% of the nation’s total, had a limited occupancy of below 50%. For the industry to still be seeing such high numbers, despite being hamstrung by the pandemic, is highly noteworthy.
Industry-watchers cheered the news. “Today’s report shows gaming’s comeback is ahead of schedule,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller. “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.” He also suggested this represents “pent-up demand among customers.
Indeed, this seems to be one of the strongest indications yet that Americans are raring to get back to “normal.” As of March 2021, 53.4 million Americans (about 16.1% of the population) had been fully vaccinated. Now, with vaccines open to all citizens aged 18 above, there is good reason to be optimistic.