Like many American business sectors, the casino industry was dealt a tough hand when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S. in March.
Hampered by pandemic closures, slow reopenings and COVID-19 capacity restrictions, U.S. commercial gaming revenue plummeted by 79% in the second quarter of 2020, according to the American Gaming Association.
Moreover, during the four months casinos were shuttered nationwide, the COVID crisis cost states $2 billion in lost state and city tax revenues, AGA says.
Though 90% of the country’s casinos are back up and running as of the end of October, gaming’s road to recovery is long, which is why the industry, like many this time of year, has its sights set on the nation’s capital.
During his State of the Industry speech on Oct. 27 at the Global Gaming Expo 2020 (G2E), held virtually this year rather than in Las Vegas, AGA CEO Bill Miller said the industry is bouncing back, and it would benefit from a boost from the federal government.
“Gaming has never experienced a disruption like COVID-19,” Miller said. “Over two weeks in March, every casino in America was closed by government-mandated shutdowns, impacting each of the 1.8 million jobs we support. Gaming workers, their families and the small businesses that depend on us have all been hit hard.”
Miller discussed how it is critical that those in power no longer treat gaming as less than a full member of the U.S. economy — it’s time the industry’s contributions to the country’s employment health and to budgets be recognized.
“During past natural or man-made governmental disasters, the federal government explicitly excluded gaming from economic relief,” Miller pointed out. “When other industries were offered a helping hand, gaming was given the cold shoulder.”
The trend continued this year when COVID hit, said Miller, recalling how the Small Business Administration tried to exclude gaming from the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We didn’t back down,” he continued. “Rather, we came together with one voice to successfully pressure the SBA to treat gaming businesses the same way every other small business in America was being treated.”
It worked. Miller said the casino industry, for the first time, received federal relief to keep workers on payroll; access critical capital; provide stabilization funds to tribal governments; and give direct economic support to gaming workers and their families.
“We made the case that gaming was a pillar of communities across America,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), a keynote speaker at G2E, said she is making efforts to ensure the casino industry isn’t excluded from any future relief packages.
Cortez Masto said she also has introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) that would support the convention and trade show industries by establishing a tax credit for the cost of attending or hosting them in the U.S. from 2021 through 2023.
“I think other states have realized the benefits of the gaming industry in their states,” Cortez Masto said. “Not only because they are job creators, which we all know, but they also benefit those state's coffers as well as local government in generating revenue, which then can be turned into support for education or support for healthcare — wherever they want to place that — because so many states really are looking for how they raise revenue to support their constituents and the needs within those communities.”
Along with building gaming allies in Washington like Cortez Masto, the industry is pushing for a switch to digital payments. This, Miller said, is not only for customer convenience on the casino floor, but also to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Another top priority, he said, is expanding the legal sports betting market.
Since G2E, the industry didn’t have to wait long to see more growth. On Election Day, voters in three more states — Maryland, South Dakota and Louisiana — authorized legal sports betting. With that, by the end of 2021, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia could have legal sports betting, per the Associated Press.
Further illustrating the growth opportunities in sports betting and online gambling, Reno-based Caesars Entertainment in late September announced it acquired British bookmaker William Hill for $3.7 billion.