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Catching Up With a US Legal Betting Heavyweight, Pennsylvania

Capitol Building – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO/Mladen ANTONOV

During the first part of 2020, the state of Pennsylvania and its legal sports betting industry looked as though it was on a path toward almost-unthinkable heights. But the coronavirus pandemic has turned everything upside down and forced the sporting world into hibernation. Even the strong have been brought down by COVID-19 including the seemingly untouchable Pennsylvania sports betting industry.

33,000 industry jobs have been lost in the state thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic impact is said to be around $6.3 billion.

The word “optimism” may be getting overused as we head out of the global COVID hole but the Pennsylvania sports betting industry is one area where it may actually apply. The fact that the state was on a record-breaking path prior to the global pandemic and the presence of a strong mobile betting platform should allow Pennsylvania to recover quickly and to rediscover the incredible legal sports betting momentum they enjoyed through January and February of this year.

Nowhere to go but “up”

The month of April was projected to be another in a long line of record handles for the state of Pennsylvania but obviously that didn’t happen. Casinos were closed all month long and there was a serious lack of marketable, bankable sports action across the globe. There was no way that ping pong and Belarussian soccer was going to fill the void.

April’s sports betting handle in Pennsylvania came in at $46 million, the lowest since May, 2019 and nearly 310 million less than January’s record handle. The figure was in fact 85% lower than the handles seen in January and February of this year and far below the expected $350 million handle for the month.

April’s revenues came in at a disappointing $2.8 million, far below the nearly $23 million in revenues from January. Obviously, the amount of tax revenue for the state also suffered greatly.

Pennsylvania sports teams coming back

This week has been huge for Professional sports in North America. The NHL was first on the board with a plan to return to action – good news for Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers fans. The NBA is getting closer to return to a revised schedule taking part in Orlando and the league could have something official in place by the end of the week. That’s good news for 76ers fans.

The NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to get back to on-field, offseason practices and the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates could be playing ball sometime this summer. MLB seems like the biggest question mark to move forward but with billions of dollars on the line, it is hard to imagine baseball not starting up in the next couple of months.

In the meantime…

Online poker and casino games have carried the ball for Pennsylvania. “As you can imagine, there has been a significant increase since the casinos closed,” Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said. Online gaming revenue was up 73% in April over March.

The combined monthly revenue for online casino and poker in April reached a record $43,067,881, slots revenue more than doubled to $27,324,955 and online poker revenue increased 68% to a record $5,253,304. Slots and table games brought in a an all-time high $37.8 million in April.

What it all means

The return of sports couldn’t come at a better time for struggling sportsbooks, Pennsylvania’s labor market and the programs that have become reliant on tax dollars from sports betting. Getting back to normal means getting people back to work, seeing sports on our televisions and people getting out and participating in their pass-times, whether it be betting on their favorite team or playing a couple of hands of blackjack.

The summer months have generally slower months for sportsbooks but 2020 figures to be a whole lot different. This summer could provide a huge injection of sports betting cash into the state. It looks like baseball, NBA and the NHL will all be in the midst of some sort of action that should span the sporting dog-days of summer.

If sports are back, that means the people that bet on them will be as well. Look for the state of Pennsylvania to approach or surpass new heights with regard to its legal sports betting industry. You can knock a Heavyweight down, but it is awfully difficult to put them away for good – Pennsylvania is aiming to be the latest example of that!