Penn National claims Pennsylvania market lead thanks to retail casino shutdown in December

Pennsylvania Online Gambling Revenue Soars Again In December, Capping Off A Year Of Massive Growth

Save for a dip in June and a flat month in November, 2020 was a year of constant growth for the Pennsylvania market. That’s not surprising, as the market was only six months old to start the year and hadn’t yet reached maturity. Even so, the extent of the growth was impressive.

Total revenue for Pennsylvania online casinos and poker rooms in December amounted to $71.6 million, a nearly sevenfold increase over $10.6 million in the final month of 2019. There are four major reasons for the growth:

  • It is normal for any new market to enjoy stronger-than-normal growth in the first few years as customers discover the new products.
  • The widespread expansion of sports betting in the US has brought in new operators and additional investment from existing ones, which has had an impact on iGaming as well.
  • Several major operators, like PokerStars and FanDuel, only launched in PA in late 2019 or early 2020 and were still getting up to speed in the first half of the year.
  • Nationwide casino shutdowns in March drove iGaming to new heights everywhere it was available, and much of this increase was sustained even after casinos reopened.

Pennsylvania then had a second casino shutdown starting Dec. 12 and extending into the new year. This produced another spike in online revenue, not quite as large as the first, but still impressive.

The date for this article comes from the latest report published by the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

PA online gambling year in review

Looking at the market’s trajectory over the year, it’s beyond a reasonable doubt that much of the growth was due to COVID-19. The biggest gains came just as the casinos closed for the first and second times.

Even during the period from June through November that casinos were open, they experienced serious restrictions. Many Pennsylvanians were also choosing to stay home of their own accord. The same increase in revenue for online businesses was seen in other US iGaming markets like New Jersey, internationally and even in other sectors entirely, like online shopping.

Intuitively, some of the increased activity will have come from formerly retail-only gamblers discovering online products, while some will have come from existing customers increasing their volume of play. The former group presumably account for the sustained gains after casinos reopened, as some of those new players ended up sticking around. That also explains why the jump coinciding with the second shutdown wasn’t quite as large, as there were fewer new players to recruit.

Aside from the size of the increase, the big difference in December’s surge is in its distribution. Every active operator at least doubled its revenue from February to May, though some did considerably better. In December, however, Penn National (comprising DraftKings and Hollywood Casino) accounted for the bulk of the increase. Its largest competitors all saw smaller gains or even a decrease in revenue.

PA Revenue Growth Through 2020

PA online gambling highlights: December 2020

  • Combined monthly revenue for online casinos and poker hit yet another record high, of $71,609,260.
  • Table games continued to increase in importance, rising to 55% of casino wagers and 33% of casino revenue, from 52% and 31%, respectively.
  • Penn National’s gains made it the new market leader, seizing the position from Rivers.
  • Total taxes for state, county, and local coffers amounted to $29,022,596.

Penn National accounted for very nearly one-third of the Pennsylvania iGaming market’s revenue in December. Former top dog Rivers Philadelphia held 27%, and Valley Forge held a little over 15%.

It’s worth noting, however, that Penn and Rivers each have two skins operating on their certificate, while Valley Forge still has only the FanDuel brand. As far as individual site revenues go, it’s entirely possible that there’s a tight race between DraftKings Casino, FanDuel Casino, and BetRivers, with Hollywood (Penn) and PlaySugarHouse (Rivers) contributing a relatively smaller amount.

If it is indeed these sports-focused brands dominating the casino space, that would explain the rising popularity of table games. These seem to be more popular among sports bettors branching out into casino products than they are among pure casino users, perhaps due to the greater amount of decision-making involved. They’re also popular for operators in Pennsylvania because they don’t face the same exorbitant tax rate as slots.

Only one operator saw bigger proportional gains than Penn, and that is newcomer Wind Creek. It launched its online sportsbook in November and also began two new ongoing casino promotions in November and December. Collectively, these factors have sent wagering through the roof. Coin in for Wind Creek’s slots rose 72% in December, and its table games multiplied their activity by a factor of almost 18. Revenue for the two verticals increased 32% and 562%, respectively.

PA online gambling revenue breakdown

Revenue / ∆ Monthly / ∆ Yearly:

  • Total: $71.6 million / +17% / +574%
  • Online casinos: $68.9 million / +20%  / +777%
  • Online poker: $2.7 million / +13% / +8%

The impact of the casino closures and the early growth of sites like FanDuel make a fair year-on-year comparison difficult for online casinos. Even now, the market is many times the size it was in late 2019 and early 2020. Yearly growth numbers should come down sharply in the coming months, especially around April. Once we’re into the summer months, we can start to see what the underlying organic growth looks like.

Online poker in Pennsylvania is more reasonable. Although it showed a huge spike in growth during the first casino shutdown, that proved much shorter in duration. The second shutdown also failed to produce much impact. That’s because live poker never resumed because of its greater risk than individual casino gaming.

On the other hand, it still remains a market of one, as PokerStars has yet to see any competition. That should change soon, as BetMGM looks like it is preparing to roll out its poker product in states besides New Jersey, and WSOP may follow suit as well. When that happens, the poker market should jump, which will in turn render its year-on-year figures less meaningful.

Detailed numbers by operator and product

LicenseeSlotsTablesPokerTotalChange (Mo./Yr.)
Penn National$13,841,695$9,679,540$-$23,521,235+50% / +1289%
Rivers Philadelphia$15,911,181$3,433,421$-$19,344,602+17% / +551%
Valley Forge$5,057,378$6,106,724$-$11,164,102+8% / -
Mount Airy$2,821,132$1,446,309$2,729,729$6,997,170+10% / +74%
Parx$4,604,612$417,532$-$5,022,144-15% / +230%
Mohegan Sun$2,114,505$962,558$-$3,077,063+26% / +657%
Caesars$977,970$350,809$-$1,328,778-13% / -
Wind Creek$440,892$150,096$-$590,988+65% / -
Live! Philadelphia$326,543$73,035$-$399,578+36% / -
Presque Isle Downs$150,849$12,750$-$163,599-32% / -
Totals$46,246,757$22,632,774$2,729,729$71,609,260+20% / +574%

PA online sports betting revenue

  • Total PA sports betting: $45.3 million
  • Online sports betting: $44.2 million

Naturally, with casinos closed more than half of the month, retail sports betting in Pennsylvania took a nosedive, dropping from $6.1 million revenue in November to $1.1 million in December. It was such a small part of the market to begin with, however, that the overall total barely changed.

Online sports betting posted a small increase, from $42.3 million to $44.2 million. Total revenue was therefore down slightly, to $45.3 million from $48.5 million. And yet, handle rose to a whopping $549 million as the NBA season got underway and the NFL approached the playoffs. Hold was consistent across the board, at a reasonable 8.3% for online and overall. Retail was only slightly higher at 8.7%.

January will likely see numbers rise on most fronts, thanks to the NFL playoffs, casinos reopening, and the NHL season getting underway as well.

You can read more about the Pennsylvania sports betting market at our sister site, PlayPennsylvania.


- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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