Nevada Gambling Revenue Hits Three Record Lows in 2020 as Pandemic Takes Toll

  • The state saw its lowest monthly revenue since 1997, the lowest full-year revenue since 1996
  • Slot revenue was down 35% y-o-y  for December, while sports betting posted 12% growth
  • Nevada's casinos continue to struggle with restrictions, including a 25% capacity limit
  • The AGA is optimistic for the US gambling industry's recovery this year after a new study
aerial view of the illuminated Las Vegas Strip at nighttime
As a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada gaming revenue posted a series of record lows in its December 2020 report. [Image:]

A bitter end to a difficult year

At the end of a turbulent year in which the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted casino operations, Nevada has posted a series of record lows in its December 2020 gaming revenue report.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board released monthly data on Thursday, also posting an abbreviated version on its Twitter page:

December 2020 saw the state register its lowest monthly casino revenue since August 1997. Casinos generated revenue of $683.7m, a 35% drop from December 2019. It was also the worst full month for the Las Vegas Strip in 27 years.

worst full month for the Las Vegas Strip in 27 years

The records didn’t stop there. For the full-year 2020, the state recorded its lowest gaming revenue since 1996. Nevada casinos took in just $7.87bn in 2020, a drop of 35% year-on-year.

Further details of the report

According to the data, for the last quarter of 2020, the state’s gaming revenue fell by 25% year-on-year to a total of $2.28bn. Revenue declined throughout the quarter, with December’s total down 11% from November and 16% from October.

Table, counter, and card games posted the steepest year-on-year drop in December. Win fell by 37% to a total of $224.7m. As usual, slot machines generated the most revenue for casinos with a total of $459m. However, this still corresponded to a drop of 35% year-on-year. Overall, slots posted a decline of 32% for 2020, while table, counter, and card games revenue dropped 40%.

only growth came from sports betting, with sportsbook revenue up 12%

The only growth came from sports betting, with sportsbook revenue up 12% for December to reach $40.6m. However, this still showed a 34% decline from November’s total. Sports betting handle dropped to a total of $4.3bn. This was down 4% from November’s figure, and 19% from 2019 levels.

Why the drop in revenue?

In its report, the Nevada Gaming Control Board blamed the full-year revenue decline on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The document reads: “The reason for the decrease to this calendar year was the result of the suspension of gaming operations from March 18 through June 4 due to COVID-19.” The board said such closures had a “significant impact” on win amounts.

Nevada lost an estimated $52m each month in potential tax revenue from gaming operations

During the March 2020 closures, Nevada lost an estimated $52m each month in potential tax revenue from gaming operations. Since then, capacity restrictions and low travel numbers have hampered casino operations in the state. Throughout the year, some Strip casinos even introduced mid-week closures as a result of dwindling visitor numbers.

December’s record lows were due in part to these continued restrictions. In late November, Governor Steve Sisolak introduced a statewide three-week “pause” in the wake of rising virus cases. This saw capacity restrictions tighten from 50% to 25% for land-based casino properties. The governor extended the measure in December, and again this month until at least mid-February.

A positive outlook for 2021

Although 2020 was a difficult year for the US gambling industry, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has expressed optimism about its recovery. In a Thursday press release, Bill Miller, CEO of the AGA, cited a “huge pent-up demand for gaming” as a reason to remain hopeful. He also said the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations would allow eager bettors to travel to casinos.

According to AGA research, the percentage of American adults planning on visiting a casino in 2021 is the highest it’s been since the body began its records in March 2019. A total of one in three adults are intending on a casino trip this year. The body also found that 80% of those future casino visitors praised the industry’s efforts in reopening safely.

Earlier this week, Las Vegas Sands’ new CEO, Robert Goldstein, expressed some optimism of his own. The casino operator, which owns The Venetian Resort and The Palazzo in Las Vegas, reported a substantial operating loss of $1.69bn in 2020. Still, Goldstein was hopeful of a 2021 recovery as he outlined a number of plans for future growth, including expansion into Texas and New York.

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