The phased reopening of the US gambling industry has commenced. As customers flock back to Las Vegas, things might not appear as they did when 2020 began. Yes, slot machines will be turned on, table games will have an empty seat waiting to be filled and sportsbooks will be ready to accept wagers. However, some gambling trends, like the legalization of iGaming and new operational standards, could make an appearance at the tail end of 2020 and progress into 2021.
Below are three gaming trends to watch with avid curiosity for the next year or two.
Trend #1: Legalizing new forms of gambling
A shared idea by gaming executives has been the notion that states looking to fill budget gaps will turn to things like sports betting and iGaming. The idea itself is nothing new. States have and will always look for new forms of revenue because there is nothing better to a politician than a constant flow of cash into state coffers — something gambling has been know to provide.
But legalizing a vice such as online casino games, an online lottery or even sports betting is no easy task. Take Illinois for example, a state which is as blue as they come, but even it had trouble legalizing sports betting.
Despite this, three high profile gaming executives have each said they expect the legalization of things like iGaming to come sooner rather than later.
During its first earnings call as a publicly traded company, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said momentum to legalize new forms of gambling can be seen across the country.
“There appears to be momentum with sports betting and iGaming legislation in the U.S. We are continuing to work with regulators to get our products live in states where we do not currently operate,” Robins said. “At this time, approximately 14 states are actively considering sports betting legislation. We are hopeful that we will continue to see the momentum as many states are expected to confront budget deficits.”
Jay Snowden, CEO at Penn National Gaming, said the legalization of iGaming is very active in the conversations they are having.
“There’s certainly more of a sense of urgency at the state level of considering the acceleration of legalizing sports betting in states that have not gone down that path,” Snowden said.
Snowden told analysts, the company expects to see this “accelerate as states seek new revenues to help offset the fallout from the coronavirus.”
“You might see jurisdictions moving towards authorizing online gaming,” Tony Rodio, CEO of Caesars Entertainment, said during the companies earnings call. “They’re looking to close budget gaps and seeing how successful it’s now becoming in some of the locations where it’s been authorized.”
State moving the needle forward
Michigan recently passed a comprehensive gaming bill that will legalize not only sports betting but iGaming by 2021-2022. In doing so, it will become the fourth state with online casino games and the fifth with online poker.
Overall, 17 states have some form of online gambling whether it be online sports betting, poker, or casino games.
That list includes:
- Michigan: C/P/OSB pending launch
- Illinois: OSB pending launch
- North Carolina: OSB pending launch
- Tennessee: OSB pending launch
- Virginia: OSB pending launch
- New Jersey: C/P/OSB
- Pennsylvania: C/P/OSB
- Indiana: OSB
- West Virginia: OSB
- Iowa: OSB
- New Hampshire: OSB
- Nevada: P/OSB
- Delaware: C/P/OSB
- Oregon: OSB
- Rhode Island: OSB
- Montana: OSB
- Colorado: OSB
C = online casino / P = online poker / OSB = online sports betting
This will probably be the hottest gaming trend to follow as states begin to reopen their economies. State budgets are hurting, and will most likely have to be sliced. But will they take the bait?
Trend #2: New casino operating standards
The coronavirus pandemic will not only reshape the way every industry looks at sanitation practices but it will also reshape what a casino looks like. Everything from food and hospitality to transportation, and yes, even the gambling industry, will get a necessary reboot.
Prior to the reopening of Las Vegas, major talking points from casino executives included everything from a reduction in gaming devices to plexiglass shields to social distancing protocols. Now that Vegas and other casinos across the country have opened their doors, customers should expect to see this trend for the foreseeable future.
“Our health and safety initiatives include, among other things, an increased frequency of cleaning and sanitizing public spaces,” Rodio said. “More hand washing by team members, requiring them to wear masks while at work and implementing social distancing.”
According to Snowden, these “new standard operating procedures” are to keep guests safe.
It might be safe to add these measures will also keep them coming in the door because nobody wants to gamble at a dirty casino.
Snowden said Penn National procedures include:
- Increased daily cleaning and sanitation regimens
- Reducing the number of table game seats
- Reducing the number of slot machines in play
- Limiting the number of seats in property restaurants
- Installing hand sanitizer stations and wipes around the casino
- Providing masks for team members
Procedures such as these have echoed through every industry in the US. Penn National and Caesars are not the only ones implementing safety measures. Rest assured, companies such as MGM Resorts, Boyd Gaming, Las Vegas Sands, and Churchill Downs all have their own version of this exact plan.
For the time being, you may walk into a Vegas casino and see a waitress with a face shield and only three people at a craps table, but remember it’s for your safety.
Trend #3: Implementing new forms of technology
The last trend to monitor is the emergence of new technology.
Snowden told analysts, “the way that we’re thinking about our business today, everything that we do and how we do it from two months ago to where we are today we’re rethinking, we’re reimagining.”
One of the interesting financial points was the $20 million a year used for direct mail production and postage.
“This opportunity for us to operate more efficiently goes well beyond things like payroll. It goes around technology,” Snowden said. “We’re still an industry, probably ly the last out there, that transact only in cash. So we’re working with our regulators right now to see if we can really accelerate this digitization of payments on our properties.”
In the wake of the pandemic may companies have been switching to cashless payments and while limiting personal interactions. Casino resorts already allow customers to check-in via mobile devices, load rewards cards online, but the shift towards a completely cashless business would be monumental.
There are some customers who prefer mobile transactions and digital services. Caesars CFO Eric Hession said 40 percent of the hotel business is coming from southern California. Imagine if a chunk of your customer base wanted to be strictly digital, for safety purposes, but had to still use cash.
Trends do change. Some outgrow their purpose and other stick around for years to come. These are but a few that are expected to emerge as more and more casino properties begin to reopen. The search for normalcy will continue but for the remainder of 2020, keep an eye out for these three.