After two months of near-total recovery in gaming revenue, Atlantic City’s nine casinos took a fall in November.
According to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement figures released on Monday, slots and table games revenue at the properties was a meager $146.6 million last month — a mighty fall from the $224 million raked in the previous November.
The exact reasons can never be completely simplified, but Gov. Phil Murphy directed that, as of Nov. 12, “after 10 p.m., no food or drink will be available to anyone inside the casino.”
The same rules apply across the state, but nowhere was the impact expected to hit harder than on casino floors, where much of the entertainment for gamblers is ignoring traditional “rules” covering when they consume meals and beverages. There are no clocks in casinos for a reason, after all.
The gambling itself remains on 24-hour play, but the curfew on food and dining — which is undone at 5 a.m. each day — may be having the impact feared by local officials.
North vs. south
At the time of Murphy’s order, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey objected:
“The CCSNJ respects Gov. Murphy’s decision to enact additional restrictions as the state again sees COVID-19 cases rise. However, the CCSNJ is disappointed that the governor has once again taken a statewide, one-size-fits-all approach, refusing to consider the vast disparities in health metrics throughout different geographical areas of the state.”
A recurring theme since the spring has been that high rates of COVID-19 infection in northern counties such as Bergen and Essex are not relevant to the Atlantic City area more than 100 miles away.
Fear of a “second wave” of infections presumably also played into reduced casino visitation, regardless of the hours of food and beverage availability.
Still, the dropoff was disappointing considering the numbers for the previous two months. October 2020 brought in $186.1 million vs. the $202.3 million in October 2019, while September 2020’s mark of $190.6 million was not so far away from September 2019’s $224.5 million.
The 34.6% dropoff was not close to evenly felt. The top-six pecking order for November 2019 was: Borgata, Caesars, Harrah’s, Tropicana, Hard Rock, Ocean.
But in November 2020, that order moved to: Borgata, Hard Rock, Ocean, Tropicana, Harrah’s, Caesars.
Perennial market leader Borgata more than doubled the runner-up a year ago. Last month, Borgata revenue tumbled 38% to $36.6 million, while 2-year-old Hard Rock somehow boosted its casino take by 19% to $28 million.
Ocean jumped three slots by losing just 1.3% to $19.3 million. Tropicana, Harrah’s, and Caesars — all now siblings under the “New Caesars Entertainment” brand — each slipped by more than 40% for the month.
Hard Rock stood out as the biggest gainer in total gaming revenue vs. November 2019 as well — up about one-third to $34.7 million.
The “fall” of Atlantic City casinos
The casinos have been restricted to just 25% of their maximum capacity since the spring, but the monthly numbers seem to show the market as having mostly adjusted in the early fall before the “food curfew.”
But while neighboring New York and Pennsylvania recently cut off all indoor dining in the wake of rising COVID concerns — and Pennsylvania has even closed its casinos for the remainder of the year — Gov. Murphy so far has declined to follow suit. If that trend continues through the end of the month/year, December casino numbers for the city could see a boost as gamblers look for more hospitable (surf and) turf.
With no brick-and-mortar casino revenue at all in April, May, and June (as well as the latter half of March, including no March Madness college basketball), the industry’s fall in retail operations for the year 2020 is now at 44.9%. But with increases in revenue from online casino play and sport betting that is mostly mobile, the total gaming slide is cut in half to 21.5%.
Finally, the state collected $10.5 million in taxes last month from brick-and-mortar casino gaming revenue, down $5.5 million from the same month in 2019.