The shutdowns have been great for online casinos, but it’s a different story for brick-and-mortar casinos. With the COVID-19 shutdowns continuing in many states, the future of some retail casinos is uncertain; it could be very hard for them to recover from the continuing restrictions on their operations.
Before the outbreak gave politicians a reason to shut down businesses, brick-and-mortar casinos were already facing challenges by online casino operators.
The Growth of Online Casinos and Sports Betting
The fact is, there a larger market for online casinos. With around 4 billion smartphone users globally, anyone can play live casino games anywhere.
Mobile sports betting and online casinos are now the fastest growing sectors of the gambling industry. In fact, New Jersey’s mobile sports betting handle comprises 80 to 90% of the state’s overall sports betting handle.
While brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks are operating in upstate New York, many New York residents still cross the border into neighboring New Jersey to place online bets. This is just further evidence showing that gamblers prefer gambling online.
Will COVID-19 Kill Brick-and-Mortar Casinos?
Before the pandemic triggered governors and mayors to issue lockdown mandates, competition from online casinos in New Jersey and Nevada was not an issue. Atlantic City and Vegas are known as not only as places to gamble, but also to enjoy live entertainment and fine food. People from all over the world traveled to these cities to gamble and enjoy life. International travel restrictions have not helped the matter, particularly for Las Vegas.
However, since the shutdowns have yet to be fully lifted, gamblers are turning to online and mobile casinos.
Even if casinos were allowed to reopen without mandatory facemasks and other restrictions, it’s likely that the unions would still push the brick-and-mortar casinos to maintain restrictions. For example, the Culinary Union in Nevada pushed for their employers to institute very hard restrictions on guests. The surge of the COVID-19 cases in Las Vegas appears to be the result of increased testing, something that has also been pushed by the Culinary Union.
The worst-case scenario is that another temporary closure will be announced by both New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Nevada governor Steve Sisolak.
Currently, the operators of the Station Casinos in Nevada are uncertain about the future of the company. Right now, the quality of tourists visiting Las Vegas has further reduced the allure of the brick-and-mortar casinos. There are reports of gang members coming in from California to enjoy a night of gambling, and with them, they are bringing gang-related crime and violence.
Brick-and-Mortar Casinos Can Make a Comeback
There is still a chance that the brick-and-mortar casinos will thrive post-pandemic. Once these businesses can lift the safety measures, such as requiring visitors to wear facemasks and limiting the capacity of the casino floor, visitors are more likely to return. Many people flock to places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City to eat, drink and be merry, not to sit alone in front of a slot machine, wearing a facemask.
Moreover, the international travel restrictions need to be lifted, as well as the restrictions imposed by the airlines; the prospect of spending hours on a plane, continuously wearing a mask, doesn’t sound like fun. At this time, it’s likely that people will only subject themselves to air travel if absolutely necessary.
Online Gaming is the Future
Despite the potential for a brick-and-mortar casino to come back, online gaming will still dominate the future of the gambling industry.
The reaction to the pandemic by local jurisdictions plays a huge role when it comes to determining the fate of brick-and-mortar casinos; despite the devastation to local and state economies, some politicians are reluctant to ease restrictions, despite falling numbers. It seems that many governors and mayors are waiting for a vaccine before they release the economic restrictions, not only on the brick-and-mortar casinos, but also on live entertainment and indoor dining.
Hopefully, things will go back to normal in states like New Jersey and Nevada well before a vaccine.
Even if every restriction was lifted today, it will still take some time before brick-and-mortar casinos get back on track. By then, many people used to the lockdown will already be acclimated to online gambling.
The key to reviving the brick-and-mortar casinos could lie in the overall experience, and that includes live entertainment, fine dining, and freely socializing. Until the shutdown restrictions are nothing more than a bad memory, land-based casinos may continue to struggle.
While the reaction to the pandemic won’t kill brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City or Vegas, it did propel mobile and online casinos to the forefront.