PA casinos in green counties allowed to open as early as Friday
Online Poker Report

Pennsylvania Casinos Begin Reopening Next Week; New Jersey’s Likely Next Month

Pennsylvania casinos coronavirus

Pennsylvania could have joined the list of states with live gambling this week, but casinos in the state have decided to wait a few more days.

Although three of the 12 land-based casinos in PA are eligible to reopen as of Friday, June 5, none will immediately leap on the opportunity. Two will instead open early next week, and the third will join a few days later.

The eligible casinos are all in the western part of the state near Pittsburgh, an area less affected by the coronavirus than Philadelphia and other east-coast metro areas.

Like most states, Pennsylvania’s reopening plan consists of phases. These are dependent on infection statistics rather than fixed dates and are evaluated on a county-by-county basis. Pennsylvania classifies counties as red, yellow, or green corresponding to the types of businesses that can reopen.

Casinos are only able to do business in green counties, of which there were 34 as of Wednesday — roughly half the state. The other half is yellow, with no counties still in the red by Friday.

Rivers, Meadows to open June 9

The largest of the three casinos is Rivers Pittsburgh, sister to the Philadelphia property formerly known as SugarHouse.

Rush Street Gaming spokesman Jack Horner said over the weekend that the Pittsburgh property would not open on Friday and had no timeline. On Wednesday, though, the company announced Tuesday, June 9 as its target date.

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, also on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, followed a similar pattern. It too expressed uncertainty about its reopening before ultimately settling on the same date.

The third casino with firm plans to reopen is Lady Luck Nemacolin, situated in a more rural area near the West Virginia border. It will reopen on Friday, June 12.

PA online gambling has lightened the burden

Pennsylvania’s gambling industry hasn’t had quite as rough of a time as some states.

The first legal PA online gambling sites began launching in July last year, and the timing has proven to be fortuitous. Online revenue has soared during the shutdown, helping mitigate losses for operators with a digital presence.

The reliance on online revenue won’t disappear as soon as casinos reopen, either.

Pennsylvania regulations only allow casinos to operate at 50% capacity as long as coronavirus remains a threat. Revenue will therefore be lower than usual, while mandatory health precautions create additional expenses. The online side of business will continue to be important in offsetting that damage to bottom lines.

Of the three properties now able to reopen, however, only Rivers has an online casino. It actually has two — one using its original SugarHouse brand and another under the BetRivers banner.

Meadows lacks an online casino, but its parent company Penn National Gaming also owns Hollywood Casino and uses that brand in the digital realm. Penn is among the gaming companies that have invested heavily in interactive products in recent years.

Lady Luck passed on iGaming permits, opting instead to focus on its small retail business.

Northeastern states likely last to fully reopen

At the beginning of the week, about a third of the nation’s casinos had reopened. That number will soar starting Thursday, as Nevada casinos begin to join the list. Over one in five US casinos is located in the Silver State, and many are desperate to get back to business.

Although Nevada has legal online poker and sports betting, its casino industry has lobbied against expansion into full-scale online gambling for fear of cannibalizing brick-and-mortar revenue. Some may have found themselves regretting that decision over the past two-and-a-half months.

Casinos in New Jersey may conversely be among the last to open their doors, with Gov. Phil Murphy aiming for the July 4 long weekend.

New Jersey is the second worst-hit state by COVID-19, behind only New York. It’s also the most developed market for online casinos in the US, having legalized them way back in 2013.

Although Atlantic City is eager to get back to business, its casinos aren’t hurting nearly as much as those in Las Vegas. NJ online gambling revenue reached a record $80 million in April.

Other northeastern states with casinos, like New York and Massachusetts, are likely to be slow to reopen as well. Though they lack online gambling, casinos aren’t nearly as important to those states’ economies as they are for some.

The remaining Pennsylvania casinos will likely be comparatively slow to open as well. Infections in the Philadelphia area remain high, so it may be a while before the counties containing the other nine casinos enter the green phase of the reopening plan.

Delaware, Connecticut exceptions for other reasons

That said, there are two northeastern states whose gambling scene is already back in action.

Both Connecticut tribal casinos opened on June 1, as did the three Delaware commercial casinos. Aside from those, the only casino currently open east of Michigan is a single, tiny tribal property in upstate New York.

They’re the exceptions that prove the rule, however. In both cases, the decision to reopen was in the hands of a party with a direct interest in doing so quickly.

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are under the jurisdiction of Connecticut’s tribes, not its state government. Tribal casinos often represent such an important source of revenue that there’s a strong incentive for them to open sooner rather than later — even if it means flying in the face of the state’s wishes.

The situation in Delaware is different, as the casino games there are operated by the lottery. That means that a far greater portion of their revenue goes directly into state coffers.

Delaware’s small population also means that those contributions make up a greater portion of total state revenue than they would elsewhere.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a freelance writer and artist living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has been doing data-based analysis of the online gaming industry since 2016.
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