Shut-out by coronavirus, gamblers turning to online betting
By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Some gamblers who suddenly can't go to a casino to play slot machines, cards or roulette are migrating to internet casinos as the coronavirus shuts down most things involving large gatherings.
As of Tuesday, casinos in about three dozen states had either been shut down by government order or done so voluntarily.
So far, just a handful of states offer internet gambling for casino games or poker: New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware and Pennsylvania; others offer online betting on sports, but that market has dried up virtually overnight as most major professional and college sports have shut down due to the virus.
Online gambling providers say they're seeing a significant spike in volume and revenue in recent days. FOX Bet says its online casino and poker operations have doubled the rate at which it is adding new customers in the last week.
“When the NBA shut down, we really saw a sharp increase since that date,” said Robin Chhabra, FOX Bet's CEO. “We're seeing a very strong shift to poker and online casino.”
Likewise, Rush Street Interactive, which runs the PlaySugarHouse.com and BetRivers.com online sites, says it has seen an increase in business, which it hopes will make up for at least some of the lost revenue from real-world casinos.
“It is still early and we are expecting the uptick to continue in the next few days,” said Mattias Stetz, the company's chief operating officer.
Resorts Casino also has seen a “noticeable” increase in online gambling in recent days, according to President Mark Giannantonio.
Since it debuted in November 2013, internet gambling has soared in New Jersey. Last year, Atlantic City casinos won nearly $483 million online, an increase of nearly 62% over 2018 levels. Including in-person casino games and sports betting money, the casinos won $3.46 billion last year.
David Schwartz, a gambling historian with the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said additional states could move to adopt internet gambling, depending on how streamlined the legislative process becomes. If a provision making it easier to offer online gambling were included in the relief package being put together by Congress, that could lead to an expansion of online gambling, though there has been no indication yet that such a provision is under consideration.
The Golden Nugget is New Jersey's leader in internet gambling revenue, winning over $177 million last year. It, too, is seeing a virus-related bump in its online numbers, with a 20% increase in new player signups this month, according to Thomas Winter, Golden Nugget's senior vice president and general manager of online gambling.
“This is definitely the best alternate option we can offer to our live casino players,” he said.
Hard Rock Atlantic City recently debuted remote-controlled slot machines in a room just at the casino that players can activate and play from home. It also offers traditional internet gambling. But like most casino executives, Hard Rock president Joe Lupo isn't expecting online revenue to increase enough to begin to make up for lost in-person revenue.
“This is not like a snowstorm that will end in 48 hours,” he said. “This is so unprecedented and the timetable is simply unknown as to when employment and the economy rebounds.”
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.