By a Biometrica Staffer
This past weekend was sandwiched between two pieces of contrasting gaming industry news from different sides of the Atlantic. Late on Friday came a bit of hope from the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The all-powerful regulatory authority issued a new health directive, amended slightly in an April 26 notice, which would allow most of the state’s casinos, including in Clark County, to basically be at 80% occupancy from May 1.
From Europe, however, came some depressing information — that 70% of all European land-based casinos remain closed even now. European casinos were reportedly closed for an average of 136 days in 2020.
On April 26, the European Casino Association (ECA), which represents the interests of approximately 900 casinos in 28 countries across Europe, stated in a release that land-based casinos in Europe had lost an average of more than 37% of normal operating days throughout 2020 due to mandated Covid-19 closures. What was worse, perhaps — and a stark reminder of the pandemic situation in Europe — is the latest ECA members’ poll found that the majority of members that were still closed did not, as yet, have any clear idea of an official reopening date for their businesses in 2021.
European land-based gaming operators saw revenues fall by more than 50% over the past year. To put this drop in perspective, the year 2020 also marked the first market contraction for the United States gaming industry since 2014 and the lowest gaming revenue total since 2003. U.S. commercial gaming revenue totaled $30.0 billion in 2020, a decline of more than 31% year-over-year. The European drop is far worse.
Pre-pandemic, the 900 land-based casinos that make up the ECA’s membership employed somewhere in the vicinity of 70,000 staff. The ECA expects that number of employees to fall by almost 30%, to about 50,000, in the post-pandemic era. “This is the deepest trough the European land-based casino industry has ever experienced. The financial impact of the pandemic on the land-based casino sector has been extreme, and these numbers show the economic realities of COVID-19 on the European land-based casino sector,” ECA Chairman Per Jaldung, also the CEO of Swedish group, Casino Cosmopol, stated.
“Some casinos have closed permanently, and many casino employees have lost their jobs,” he added. “We are under no illusion that the industry can return to ‘business as usual’ any time soon. We are, as a matter of fact, very far from business as usual.”
Sweden, incidentally, has been one of the worst-affected countries where land-based casinos are concerned. While casinos reopened in countries like Luxembourg, Spain and Monaco under Covid-specific restrictions, those in Sweden have been closed for a whole year now.
What has been interesting, however, was that despite those closures, there has been almost no difference between the country’s gaming revenue in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, Sweden’s gaming revenue was SEK 24.8 billion (about $2.95 billion). In 2020, gaming revenue in Sweden was SEK 24.69 billion (about $2.94 billion) in 2020, down just 0.4% from 2019, as the growth in online gambling cancelled out the effects of the coronavirus on land-based operators.
The online gaming boom continued in other countries too, with France’s online gaming market revenue ensuring that a year marked by Covid-19 casino closures still ended on a high note. According to igaminbusiness.com, French industry regulator L’Autorité nationale des Jeux (ANJ), which replaced ARJEL as the regulatory body for online gambling last year in order to unify gambling regulation under one umbrella, reported record online gaming revenue of €1.74 billion ($2.09 billion) for 2020. The market had already risen 18% year-on-year to €1.42 billion ($1.71 billion) in 2019, in large part due to a 27% rise in sports betting. This, by the way, was a smaller rise than 2018’s 56% revenue growth in sports betting in France.
All of this wasn’t unexpected, however. A European Gaming & Betting Association (EGBA) release at the end of December 2020 had indicated that in 2019, the total European gambling market was worth €98.6 billion ($119.02 billion), with online gambling accounting for €24.5 billion ($29.64 billion) and land-based gambling accounting for €74.1 billion ($89.44 billion) in gross gaming revenue (GGR). For 2020, total gross gaming revenue was expected to drop by 23% to €75.9 billion ($91.62 billion) because of the impact of Covid-related closures on land-based gambling, but online gambling revenue was expected to increase by 7% to €26.3 billion ($31.74 billion) gross gaming revenue and grow steadily to reach €37.3 billion ($45.02 billion).