Atlantic City casinos found a little bit of relief from their COVID-19 concerns last month. Gross gaming revenue (GGR) in March was up considerably from where it was a year ago, which isn’t surprising since March 2020 marked the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. However, the city’s overall GGR, including iGaming and sports gambling, was also better than what it was in March 2019, which could be a good sign for the Garden State’s gambling market. After a 2020 that saw profits drop 80%, things are looking better for 2021.
The April GGR results in Atlantic City will provide a better picture of whether the city’s casinos are on the rebound. However, March was a good month, with total GGR of $184.8 million reported by the nine gambling houses. That represents a 116% increase over March 2020 and, with a total gaming GGR of $359.2 million across all segments, Atlantic City’s gaming market improved by 18% over March 2019. Taking into account that casinos are still only operating at 50% of their normal capacities, the improvement is even more substantial.
The Borgata was the big winner last month. The MGM Resorts-owned property took in $89 million from visitors, including $46.5 million at the land-based venue and $36.1 million through its online operations. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City was next with $69.9 million. After having reported a gross operating profit of $11 million for all of 2020, Hard Rock’s monthly performance in March shows a significant rebound.
A transition that finds more casinos across the US adopting no-smoking policies for their gaming floors could have an adverse reaction on Atlantic City’s recovery. The city has a 15-year-old ordinance that forces smoke-free environments but allows an exception for casinos. However, that exception was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 debacle and all of Atlantic City’s casinos now have smoke-free gaming floors. A campaign to make the suspension permanent isn’t finding a lot of support from the casinos.
The improved GGR in March isn’t going to give casinos a solid argument for rejecting the permanent ban. They won’t be able to claim that it will hinder revenue growth, as they just proved that the ban didn’t have a negative impact on gambling. New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle is sponsoring legislation to make the ban permanent and told the Associated Press, “We’ve seen it’s possible for casinos to operate with smoking bans because they had no choice. This time is definitely different. For over a year, we’ve been battling with a respiratory virus, one that disproportionately impacts smokers.”
Across the US, 24 states prohibit smoking in casinos, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Nevada and New Jersey could soon be included on that list, as well. Pennsylvania has a temporary ban in place, just like New Jersey, and it, too, enjoyed a record month in March.