Pennsylvania Latest to Report COVID Slide

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The effects of COVID-19 keep rearing its ugly head as state-after-state reports their April figures. One of the true stalwarts in the US sports betting industry, Pennsylvania is out with their April reports and they reflect an all-too-familiar pattern of declines across the sector. Pennsylvania, which is considered the third most bet-friendly state in the US, is further proof that even the Heavyweights of the US legal betting industry can be brought to their knees by a sickness.

With no mainstream sports to speak of during April, Pennsylvania's impressive sports betting momentum was effectively stopped in its tracks with little reason to think that May's numbers will provide much of an uptick. Huge drops in both handle and revenue have been eye-opening to say the least. The trend has been that the more successful a state was pre-COVID, the more dramatic the drop-off in terms money flowing in to the state, and Pennsylvania is just the latest example of that.

The numbers

The coronavirus pandemic has essentially decimated the previously exploding legal sports betting industry in the US. Pennsylvania, one of the poster-children for the successes of legal sports betting reported an April handle of just $46 million according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. That’s a far cry from the estimated $350 million that the state was projected to take in during what should have been a busy month, and the lowest amount since May, 2019. The handle was an astonishing 86% lower than the average monthly handle for January and February of this year.

For comparison sake, Pennsylvania brought in $348.4 million during a record-breaking January - $300 million more that in April. The overall handle fell 65% from a somewhat disappointing $131.3 million in an exaggerated March, when bettors had a half a month to wager on their favorite team.

Of course, revenues for Pennsylvania were reflected in the sharp drop-off of sports betting handle in the state. Revenue from March to April fell 58% to just $2.8 million - a stark contrast to the record $22.8 million in revenue the state enjoyed during its record month on January.

What could have been

April had potential, at a minimum to be a banner month for legal sports betting in Pennsylvania and could have been a record-breaker if things went perfectly. MLB would have been in full swing, March Madness would have crowned it Champion, the Masters Golf tournament would have been played and the NBA and NHL would have been in the midst of their playoffs. Analysts believed that $350 million in handle for the month was a reasonable goal for the state.

American Gaming Association SVP of strategic communications Casey Clark acknowledged that: “The past few months should have been record-breaking for legal sports betting in America.” But betting on Table Tennis and Russian Basketball predictably failed to make up for the lack of bankable marketable North American sports staples.

Making lemonade out of lemons

 Pennsylvania is one of the states in  which mobile betting set the stage for its legal betting platform. The state consistently reported over 85% of their impressive monthly handles coming via mobile means.

“The growth in online gambling as well as betting on non-traditional sports are industry bright spots,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayPennsylvania.com.

The strong mobile presence in the state allowed online poker and casino games surge in popularity. The combined monthly revenue for online casino and poker 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.

Like everyone...

The Pennsylvania sports betting scene is waiting for the world to open up again. And that seems as though it will come sooner rather than later. UFC and NASCAR have set the bar for returns to action, the NBA, NHL and MLB are in the midst of finalizing plans for their re-opening and the NFL is still planning on going forward with a full season in the fall.

Pennsylvania was on a tremendous path. Their legal sports betting platform was the envy of many and a model for other states to follow. According to Dustin Gouker: “… there just isn’t any way for Pennsylvania operators to compensate for such a dramatic loss of revenue, including at retail sportsbooks and land-based casinos, which can’t generate a single dollar right now.”

As of now, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is in talks to slowly re-open casinos and effectively take the reigns off of the sports betting industry. Safety plans are being drafted and hopes are that things move quickly toward a smooth re-opening. The appetite for sports betting is definitely there as is the desire for sportsbooks to get back up to speed. The only thing missing is sports and brick-and-mortar casinos and those are getting closer to return each day.

With the storm seemingly weathered, the Pennsylvania sports betting market is ready to explode with pent-up demand. Look for more records to fall in the state sooner rather than later.

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