NJ Sets All-Time Record With $6 Billion In Yearly Sports Wagers

Technically, the Garden State took in $1 billion in December NJ sports betting wagers. The $996.3 million handle makes it five straight months of records.

A monumental final month of 2020 helped New Jersey set an all-time annual record of more than $6 billion in total sports betting handle last year.

Gamblers placed more than $996.3 million in total wagers with Garden State sportsbooks in December, according to data released Wednesday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement

This is yet another all-time monthly record for any legal U.S. sports betting jurisdiction, Nevada included.

December NJ sports betting revenue came in at $66.4 million.

Online sports betting still big winner

Like previous months, the bulk of the action came via the 19 NJ sports betting apps. They accounted for more than 93% ($929.3 million) of the total monthly handle in December. 

More than $5.53 billion, or 92%, of the 2020 annual sports betting handle was from online wagers.

NJ enjoyed record-breaking 2020

December was the fifth consecutive month that New Jersey set a U.S. record in sports betting handle. Here’s a look at the recent monthly handle:

New Jersey’s 2020 sports betting handle is $1.4 billion more than the $4.58 billion reported last year, an increase of 24% year-over-year. Even more remarkable is that there were no major professional or collegiate sports to bet on in April, May and June of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NJ sports betting revenue saw an increase of 33.1% over 2019. The 2020 total came in $398.5 million versus $299.3 for ’19.

FanDuel Sportsbook crushed the competition

Meadowlands Racetrack, the land-based partner of FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet NJ, is the biggest winner when it comes to NJ sports betting revenue.

The Meadowlands reported $33.2 million in December. It is NJ Gambling Sites’ understanding that FanDuel accounts for the bulk of the reported revenue.

To put that number into perspective, the nine Atlantic City license holders reported combined revenue of $28.9 million for the same period.

For the entire year, the Meadowlands and its online partners generated more sports betting revenue ($206.5 million) than every Atlantic City casino and their online operators combined ($166.3 million).

In terms of other license holders, Resorts Digital (DraftKings Sportsbook, Fox Bet, and Resorts) placed a distant second with $100.9 million for the year.

Inches away from first $1-billion month

NJ barely missed $1 billion of monthly sports betting wagers in December, but the milestone is not impossible to reach.

With the NFL Playoffs, the recently completed NCAA College Football Playoff championship game, plus NBA and NHL regular-season action in January, NJ sportsbooks have a $1 billion month squarely in their sights.

The wild card for NJ sports betting is just how much of an impact regional competition will have. Pennsylvania’s online sports betting market is growing and New York appears ready to enter the fray.

But in 2020, NJ was king of the sports betting hill.

AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman

Raise The Curtain: Hard Rock AC Announces Live Entertainment Plans

Hard Rock AC might not be hosting live concerts yet, but there is a holiday show coming to town in December with health-and-safety rules in place.

Entertainment fans looking to catch a concert at Hard Rock Live Etess Arena will still be waiting several months.

According to the Hard Rock Casino website, Pitbull is currently the next scheduled entertainer. And by next, we mean June 25, 2021. He was originally booked for Nov. 7.

Hard Rock, however, isn’t waiting as long to offer customers live entertainment. The property announced it’s bringing back live music for the holiday season.

Motor City Live’s A Motown Christmas will run on select dates at Sound Waves.

Hard Rock AC is the first of the nine Atlantic City casinos to offer guests an indoor theater-style show since the pandemic shut down the industry back in March.

Details on Hard Rock’s entertainment plans

Some may question bringing back some form of live entertainment as COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

Gov. Phil Murphy recently urged the Garden State to be cautious heading into a busy holiday season.

However, like the casino floor and restaurants, there will be limited capacity at each show. Plus Hard Rock will be implementing the strict “Safe + Sound” guidelines for each and every show.

Tickets ($29 each) are being sold as individual tables of two and four to ensure social distancing. Tickets go on sale Friday, Nov. 27, with A Motown Christmas running on select dates between Dec. 11 and Dec. 30.

Here are some of the other precautions being implemented:

  • Temperature checks
  • One-way directed traffic patterns
  • Decreased venue capacity
  • Mandated facial coverings

Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock AC, commented on the new entertainment offering.

“We are happy to present a holiday show to raise the spirits of our guests in a very safe and sound environment,” said Lupo.

“Public demand is looking for activities, especially with outdoor temperatures keeping everyone inside. The large showrooms, with better air circulation and spacious seating, and less than 10% of normal (occupancy) can provide that safe and fun night out.”

This is the latest example of Hard Rock’s willingness to offer guests additional amenities with strict health and safety protocols.

Last month’s reopening of the Fresh Harvest casino buffet is another example of this. So far, Hard Rock AC is the only New Jersey casino to bring back the dining concept, minus the buffet stations.

What other AC casinos are doing

So here’s the bigger question: When will other Atlantic City casinos bring back live entertainment?

Well, the answer is still to be determined.

Other AC properties are slowly starting to offer other forms of entertainment.

Harrah’s Resort hosted a series of outdoor concerts in the summer with its Bayside ROCK Live series.

Tropicana is going the comedy route with performances by the AC Jokes comedy club.

So what comes next is anybody’s guess. However, it’s highly likely those answers will not come until the first quarter of 2021, at the earliest.

For now, Hard Rock is ready with some holiday cheer.

Bally’s Corp. Making Moves To Compete In Sports Betting Industry Nationwide

Bally’s sports betting interest has become clear over the past week with its acquisition of Bet.Works and a naming-rights deal with Sinclair.

Bally’s Corp. has committed to spending $90 million on its Atlantic City property over the next five years. Bally’s sports betting ambitions appear to be much broader than just New Jersey, however.

The last week has been a busy one for the gambling company, as it announced an agreement to acquire Bet.Works, a US sportsbook technology platform provider. On the same day, Bally’s Corp. shared the details of a strategic partnership to put its branding in front of millions of sports fans around the country. The end goal is obvious.

Both deals come on the heels of the company completing the purchase of Bally’s AC from Caesars Entertainment.

More on Bally Corp’s sports betting push

To compete with the big boys in the NJ sports betting industry in the Garden State and beyond, Bally’s needed a platform. Check it off the list.

Bet.Works currently powers theScore Bet app that is live in New Jersey and several other US jurisdictions.

For cash and stock worth $125 million, Bally’s will make Bet.Works’ products its own.

“This is the next step in our company’s evolution,” said Soo Kim, chairman of Bally’s Corporation’s board of directors. “By combining our expanding national footprint of casinos, the recently acquired Bally’s brand and Bet.Works’ proprietary technology stack, we have evolved in just a few short years from a regional casino operator into the first US gaming company committed to serving our customers with an omnichannel approach, combining the best of our physical properties with a superior online experience.”

A press release stated that Bally’s plans to split operations into two separate divisions, with one handling online products and the other focusing on retail casino business. The online division’s name will be Bally’s Interactive.

It’s unclear exactly when NJ online gamblers will have access to either product under Bally’s management. It’s also uncertain to what extent Bally’s will rebrand the platforms. The company doesn’t expect to actually close the transaction until early next year.

Whenever Bally’s does start pushing its online sports betting product, it will have a great chance to market it to sports fans. That’s the result of some more recent spending.

Bally’s buys RSN naming rights

This chain of events began years ago when Disney bought out 20th Century Fox. As part of the regulatory approval for that transaction, Disney had to sell off Fox’s 21 regional sports networks.

Last year, Sinclair Broadcasting purchased the entire lot. That gave the company rights to broadcast a multitude of sporting events in most of the United States.

For $85 million over the span of a decade, those networks will soon bear Bally’s name. The networks will all feature the name Bally’s Sports.

The companies plan to integrate Bally’s sports betting product directly into the broadcasts, going as far as to actually allow you to wager on an event using your television as you’re watching it. Here are some of the highlights of the strategic partnership:

  •  Sinclair and Bally’s will jointly market, design and integrate products on a state-by-state basis and deliver one-of-a-kind online gaming experiences.
  • 21 Fox RSN brands will be rebranded using the Bally name.
  • Bally’s will have premium integration opportunities across the Tennis Channel, the home of over 95% of all live tennis matches broadcast in the US, Sinclair’s 24/7 multiplatform sports network.

As it’s a naming rights deal and not an acquisition, it’s fair to assume Sinclair will still be free to sell advertising space to Bally’s competitors during broadcasts. Additionally, it’s yet uncertain what this will mean for Fox’s own sports betting platform, Fox Bet.

What’s clear, however, is the fact that Bally’s is all in on competing for sportsbook handle across the country. If it can maximize its deal with Sinclair, it has a good shot at gaining market share.

Murphy, AC Casino Owners Stay Course As COVID-19 Statistics Worsen Around New Jersey

Atlantic City casinos are operating 24/7 with restrictions despite surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive cases around the Garden State.

The lights are still on inside Atlantic City casinos.

However, casino operators and state government officials around the country continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of good options for mitigation seems to dwindle with each passing day. New Jersey casinos are by no means an exception to this new rule.

Although Atlantic City properties remain open with restrictions, it’s uncertain how much longer that will be the case. Relevant trends in the Garden State are going in the wrong direction.

The latest on Atlantic City casinos and COVID-19

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy has been upfront with his constituents on a daily basis about the worsening numbers in the state.

On Tuesday, Murphy signed a new executive order that lowered gathering limits for both indoor and outdoor venues. As of Nov. 23, New Jerseyians may only gather in groups of up to 10 indoors. For outdoor gatherings, the limit is 150 people. In both cases, the state expects proper social distancing and wearing of face masks.

As Atlantic City casinos are a significant source of tax revenue for the state and fuel the economy in the area, Murphy naturally had to address their fate. His main position is that data shows the casinos have been acting responsibly throughout the pandemic.

“We believe, based on the evidence that we have, that they’ve been able to responsibly manage their casino floors,” Murphy said during a briefing with other state officials on Wednesday. “Whether it’s through (personal protective equipment), whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos … there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the floor or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor.”

Murphy did not elaborate on what evidence he drew that conclusion from. The most likely candidate is contact tracing for positive cases, which identifies the sources of transmission if done correctly.

The question is whether casinos can maintain their current status if trends continue to worsen. Casino operators seem determined to do all they can to maintain the reputation they have earned.

Casino industry not curtailing business

So far, none of the AC casinos have announced any major plans to further reduce their hours or offerings. A statement from the Casino Association of New Jersey  mentions one adjustment, however:

“The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) understands the administration’s concerns, and that is why the industry has taken extraordinary measures to safely welcome back thousands of hardworking employees and valued guests, while also helping to minimize the exposure of Atlantic City casino property guests, our employees and our local community to the COVID-19 virus.

“We will continue to work to give our guests the exciting experience they have come to expect from our first-class properties:

  • Casino floor and gaming operations will remain open, uninterrupted, 24/7.
  • Indoor dining outlets will remain open, closing between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. ET, effective this Thursday, Nov. 12.

“As we see a rise in cases across New Jersey, we are focused on the health and safety of our employees, guests and fellow residents and will continue to work with AtlantiCare, our regional health care provider, as well as local and state officials, to refine and update our protocols as local and state mandates evolve. We remain dedicated to complying with, or exceeding, local or state-imposed mandates, restrictions and occupancy limits to try to maintain a healthy environment.”

Casino closings in other states

Despite those best efforts, Murphy’s hesitancy to close casinos for a second time this year may soon make him an outlier. Earlier today, Rivers Casino in neighboring  Philadelphia closed.

The City of Philadelphia announced “Safer at Home” restrictions that will be in place through Jan. 1, 2021. The list also includes:

  • Indoor dining
  • Theaters and museums
  • Libraries
  • Gyms and indoor exercise classes

For now, Rivers Philadelphia is the only Keystone State casino impacted. The other gaming halls are outside the city limits.

Other states are taking a similar approach. In Michigan, all three Detroit casinos are closed for three weeks. Illinois has ordered casinos within its borders to close, too.

Additionally, Massachusetts has limited hours for its casinos.

As of now, Atlantic City casinos are still open for gambling.

Murphy might take smaller steps, like shutting down indoor dining, before closing AC casinos altogether. If there’s not a marked improvement in COVID-19 numbers soon, he may have few other choices.

First In Line: Hard Rock Atlantic City Reopens Buffet With Changes

Hard Rock AC is now offering customers an all-you-can-eat dining experience at Fresh Harvest. It is the first and only Atlantic City casino buffet to reopen.

Hard Rock Casino finally has the one thing missing from the Atlantic City indoor dining season.

Any idea what it is?

After months of waiting, Hard Rock Atlantic City customers now have the option of eating lunch or dinner at Fresh Harvest casino buffet. For those wondering how a property can operate a buffet when the coronavirus global pandemic is still around, the solution involves some creativity.

Hard Rock is reinventing the concept by replacing the traditional buffet with an all-you-can-eat dining experience.

In other words, for now, forget about the long lines at the food stations. Instead, all of the “classic comforts and international favorites” are served straight to the table. The cost is $29.99 per person.

Call it the social-distance version of the popular Atlantic City buffet.

What’s on the Fresh Harvest buffet menu

Customers familiar with the Fresh Harvest menu will notice that many of the regular items are still on the expansive menu.

Here is a small sampling of what’s available:

  • Sliced brisket
  • New England clam chowder
  • General Tso’s chicken
  • Italian chopped salad
  • New York cheesecake parfaits

Hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday, noon-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-10 p.m.

Status of Atlantic City indoor dining

Nothing much has changed since early September when Gov. Phil Murphy cleared the path for AC casinos to bring back indoor dining.

Like the other restaurants across the state, Fresh Harvest employees and guests must follow the indoor dining guidelines mandated by New Jersey.

Hard Rock AC takes things a step further with its Safe + Sound protocols.

At this time, there is no word on when Murphy will increase indoor capacity.

When will other Atlantic City casino buffets reopen?

Unfortunately, this is one of those questions that will remain unanswered for now.

NJGamblingSites reached out to several of the other Atlantic City casinos, and “nothing new” was the response across the board.

The Buffet page on the Golden Nugget AC website includes a brief statement:

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Buffet is closed until further notice.”

The restaurant page on the Tropicana AC website still shows the words “Temporarily Closed” across the Fiesta Buffet image.

The others may be waiting to see how smoothly things go at Hard Rock before moving forward with their buffet reopening plans.

Associated Press photo

Atlantic City Casinos Could Get Some Tax Relief, But Will It Be Enough?

The New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill that would provide temporary tax relief for Atlantic City casinos, but how bad is it really in AC?

In light of the negative fiscal impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Atlantic City casinos, the New Jersey Legislature voted in favor of providing temporary relief to the industry.

In a vote on Thursday, the General Assembly moved the bill (S2400/A4032) to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his signature. The state Senate passed the bill back in June.

The ultimate goal of the legislation is to help casinos get back on their feet as well as resume hiring.

The bill allows for a reduction in taxes paid on gross gaming revenue. It also includes a monthly deduction against gross gaming revenue equal to the bonus and promo credits used by the casino’s customers.

According to the legislation, the pandemic “has clearly not just reversed the consistent track of economic improvement that the Atlantic City casino industry had worked very hard to achieve over the last several years, but also has set back the economy of an entire region that is greatly dependent on the jobs, tourism spending and purchases that the Atlantic City casinos generate.”

How bad is it at Atlantic City casinos?

2020 has been a frustrating year for many in the entertainment and hospitality industries, especially in Atlantic City.

When the coronavirus pandemic was at its height in New Jersey, Murphy shut down the casinos. Until the scaled-back reopening in July, Atlantic City’s casinos had to rely on just online gambling to bring in any sort of revenue.

Last month was the first full month that all nine Atlantic City casinos were open since mid-March.

All the casinos reopened at reduced capacity with a reduced number of games and machines for customers to play on as well as a ban on indoor dining.

Indoor dining returned with similar restrictions in September.

All of these various factors played a role in a considerable drop in revenue compared to August 2019.

A drop in casino win across the board

According to a press release from the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), the total gaming revenue posted in August was $326.3 million. Last year, $352.8 million was earned, a 7.5% decrease.

On its own, that decrease isn’t much. And the reason for that lies in the strength of NJ online gambling sites.

In August, $87.8 million in NJ online casino revenue was brought in compared to $41.1 million last year, an increase of 113.6%.

There was also a year-to-year increase in NJ sports betting revenue at $39.5 million for the month, up from last year’s amount of $25,210,342. The majority of that revenue was also online.

Land-based casinos, however, are another story. Eight casinos saw year-over-year decreases between 14% and 55% in August.

The only outlier was Ocean Casino Resort, which grew by only 1.4% year-over-year.

CasinoTable & OtherSlot MachinesAug 2020 TotalAug 2019 Total% Change
Bally's$ 3,915,944
$ 11,540,973$ 15,456,917$18,756,628-17.60%
Borgata$ 11,671,996$ 28,821,017$ 40,493,013$71,925,945-43.70%
Caesars$ 6,444,970$ 14,766,485$ 21,211,455$30,920,635-31.40%
Golden Nugget$ 1,515,939$ 7,747,523$ 9,263,462$20,684,016-55.20%
Hard Rock$ 12,586,066$ 20,287,550$ 32,873,616$38,456,242-14.50%
Harrah's$ 5,278,263$ 16,234,162$ 21,512,425$31,125,574-30.90%
Ocean Casino$ 6,340,123$ 18,034,934$ 24,375,057$24,050,2961.40%
Resorts$ 3,182,446$ 10,718,845 $ 13,901,291$18,889,794-26.40%
Tropicana$ 4,004,543$ 15,961,030$ 19,965,573$31,671,211-37%
Total$ 54,940,290$ 144,112,519$ 199,052,809 $ 286,480,341-30.50%

Note: Atlantic City poker rooms were open in August 2019, but remain closed as of September 2020. The total gaming revenue in August 2019 includes poker.

AC casinos struggle to maintain growth

The industry’s total gaming revenue last month was only $1.618 billion, compared to last year’s $2.278 billion, a 29% decrease.

These numbers continue the downward revenue trend that Atlantic City’s casinos are on this year. The first-quarter numbers were down 65% compared to the previous year. That included the first two weeks of the casino shutdown.

The second-quarter numbers were much worse, as there was a $112 million, or 85%, decrease compared to last year. This was the quarter that was completed affected by the shutdown.

The back-to-back quarterly losses come on the heels of a period when Atlantic City casinos saw a 21-month streak of growth come to an end.

Casinos and hiring during a pandemic

While AC’s casinos are up and running at a limited capacity now, the impact of the months-long shutdown will be felt into 2021. That’s something that is not lost on Assemblymen John Armato (D-Atlantic City) and Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic City).

“We all know that the casino industry is vital to the success of the local finances and to the over 30,000 individuals it employs,” Mazzeo said in a Press of Atlantic City article.

“Atlantic City will be feeling the downturn in the economy like the rest of the state and country. Ensuring that we do not intentionally worsen that or place any extra burden on the taxpayers is our top priority,” Armato added.

That being said, the new bill does require something of casinos in return for tax relief. Casinos in Atlantic City must make a “good faith effort” to hire as many former and new employees as possible.

In the last few months, casino management had to get creative in order to make the most of the restricted opening in July. Hard Rock Atlantic City, for example, moved its VIP high-roller lounge from indoors to an outdoor ocean view tent.

“We’ve been able to bring back about 60% of our employee base, so not everyone,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock AC.

“We can’t fill our hotels because we can’t put as many people in our hotel elevators, nor do we have enough seating outside to supplement all those guests if we did fill our hotel rooms.”

The local effect of an Atlantic City casino downturn

The fiscal impact that the city itself will experience due to the casino shutdown is already being felt by the city and its businesses. But it will also be felt in next year’s municipal budget.

According to the PILOT bill, which was enacted in 2016, Atlantic City’s nine casinos pay a portion of their annual earnings to the city instead of taxes for 10 years.

The casinos paid the city $150 million last year, a number that will not be achieved this year due to the pandemic, according to the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

“DCA projects that 2020 gross gaming revenues will be lower, which will result in lower PILOT payments to the City of Atlantic City in 2021,” Lisa Ryan, a DCA spokesperson, told the Press of Atlantic City.

Despite the expected lower PILOT payment for 2020, the DCA still feels that there will not be any real impacts on Atlantic City’s budget for next year.

However, Michael Busler, a public policy analyst and finance professor at Stockton University, has a less than optimistic view.

“I think (the casinos) are going to have a tough time even meeting the amount that they have to pay (for 2021),” Busler said.