A record year for N.J. sports betting; casinos, not so much

Over $6 billion worth of bets were placed last year in New Jersey, which won a Supreme Court case in 2018 that cleared the way for the expansion of legalized sports betting.

Gamblers count their money before starting to make bets at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City

Gamblers count their money before starting to make bets at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., on July 2, 2020, the day it reopened after being closed for just over three months due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

New Jersey took nearly $1 billion worth of sports bets in December, an encouraging finish to a year in which coronavirus closures and restrictions sent overall gambling revenue down nearly 17%.

Over $6 billion worth of bets were placed last year in New Jersey, which won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 that cleared the way for the ongoing expansion of legalized sports betting in America.

Figures released Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show the state’s nine casinos and three horse tracks that accept sports bets took in over $996 million worth of such wagers in December, the latest in a string of monthly records for U.S. sports betting.

Slot and table games revenue for the casinos, including internet betting, was $2.64 billion in 2020. When sports betting revenue is added, New Jersey saw more than $2.88 billion in revenue for the year.

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That represented a decline of 16.9% in a year in which the casinos were closed for 3 1/2 months. Even when they were allowed to reopen in July, they had to restrict operations to 25% of capacity — limits that remain in place today.

Craps players and dealers are seperated by partitions at the Golden Nugget Casino
Craps players and dealers are separated by partitions at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“Significant revenue was lost in those early months and, throughout the second half of the year, the resurging public health crisis continued to impact business in Atlantic City,” said James Plousis, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. “Atlantic City’s stakeholders have been working hard to build a strong foundation for recovery. As society begins to approach a return to normalcy, Atlantic City will be ready to restore its recent positive momentum.”

Only one casino, the Golden Nugget, took in more money in 2020 than it did in 2019. It won more than $415 million, an increase of nearly 10% over the previous year.

Harrah’s had the biggest decline in 2020, down 46.8% to $166.3 million. Resorts was close behind, down 43.8% to $100.2 million. Caesars was down an identical 43.8% to $152.3 million.

Tropicana was down 33.8% to $231.5 million; Borgata, the last of the nine casinos to reopen last year, was down 27.6% to $577.3 million; Hard Rock was down 17% to $290.5 million, and Ocean was down 10.1% to $214.1 million.

Ocean CEO Terry Glebocki said 2020 was a challenging year.

“We’re optimistic about the future as demonstrated by Ocean’s 18% year-to-date growth in casino win during the year’s eight operational months,” she said. “In a time when many businesses in the country are ramping down operating schedules, Ocean is actively reinvesting in its property by debuting new venues likes our new high-limit slot experience, The Cove.”

Under two different owners in 2020, Bally’s won nearly $97 million, compared with $181.5 a year earlier.

New Jersey has led the nation for months in the amount of money bet on sports within its borders. With the NFL playoffs underway in the run-up to the Super Bowl, January 2021 is almost certain to eclipse the $1 billion mark for total amount of money wagered, known in the industry as “handle.”

But that number is separate from, and much larger than, sports betting revenue, or the amount of money sports books keep after paying out winning bets and other expenses. New Jersey’s casinos and horse tracks kept just under $400 million in sports betting revenue last year, an increase of over 33% from a year earlier.

And its dominance of the market appears to be in jeopardy: New York state announced last week it will legalize mobile sports betting this year, a move certain to cut into New Jersey’s sports betting business. Industry experts say about 20% of New Jersey’s sports bets are made by New Yorkers who cross the border to wager; that is money New Jersey soon will no longer be getting.

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Internet gambling revenue more than doubled last year, going from $482 million in 2019 to $970 million in 2020, another bright spot for an industry still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Internet gambling had been on a roll for years in New Jersey, but increased even more this year as gamblers had no option but to bet on their phones or laptops from mid-March to early July, and even after they reopened, some felt more comfortable gambling from home.

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