New York’s Commercial Casinos Were Unbothered By Online Sports Betting Launch In January

Written By Derek Helling on February 16, 2022

The idea that online gambling diminishes the performance of physical casinos looks like it has taken yet another hit. As online sportsbooks in the Empire State had a record-shattering debut, the four New York commercial casinos were doing just fine.

In fact, all four improved their total gross gaming revenue (GGR) last month by at least 14% as compared to January of 2021. One of them also actually improved on its December 2021 sports betting figures as well.

New York commercial casinos start out 2022 strong

Altogether, the four properties reported a total of about $47.9 million in GGR for January of this year. That encompasses all forms of gambling at the casinos; poker, slots, in-person sports betting, and table games.

For January of last year, that same figure came to around $37 million. It wasn’t that one of the four properties really overperformed and made up for a downturn by another, though. All four facilities improved on their same-month 2021 figures.

  • del Lago Casino & Resort: up 23.1% from January 2021
  • Resorts World Catskills: up 29.1% from January 2021
  • Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady: up 19.8% from January 2021
  • Tioga Downs Casino Resort: up 14.1% from January 2021

There’s an obvious reason behind the stark increases; the COVID-19 pandemic. During January of last year, the state’s commercial casinos dealt with capacity restrictions and diminished offerings. For example, Rivers didn’t reopen its poker room until September of last year.

Does that make a year-over-year comparison here less valuable? Certainly. It’s fair to question whether an increase of about 22.8% is merely attributable to the lack of coronavirus restrictions and improved consumer confidence, though. There could be more to this story.

Two other important points of context

Two other data comparisons can provide more context. The first is a look at total GGR figures from January 2019, before the pandemic started. In that month, the four casinos combined to report $45 million in GGR.

Additionally, it’s worth looking at how the retail sportsbooks inside the casinos fared amidst the online sports betting launch. Again, context is crucial to understand the relevance of those figures for the casinos.

The NY State Gaming Commission doesn’t list handle for the physical sportsbooks for previous fiscal years, only revenue. Thus, we can only compare how much bettors put down at the casino sportsbooks within the same fiscal year.

Comparing handle at the four books for last month to December of 2021, three out of the four saw a downturn. Tioga Downs was the outlier, actually taking about 6.3% more in wagers on sports in January than it did in December.

Resorts World’s sports betting handle fell by about 12.2%. Rivers saw a decrease of around 27% and sports bettors at del Lago plunked down about 27.5% less than they had the previous month.

Isolated, that would seem to suggest that online sports betting is hurting the retail business in NY. It’s inaccurate to isolate those figures from the larger picture, though. For these casinos, their sports betting activity is more of a side dish than an entree.

NY casinos don’t depend on sports betting money

It’s important to keep in mind that retail sports betting in NY wasn’t a mammoth revenue generator prior to the commencement of online wagering. For instance, July 2021 was the best month of the fiscal year so far for Tioga Downs in terms of total GGR.

That month, it reported over $8.8 million in revenue. The revenue from sports betting that month came to $119,290. That represents just around 1.3% of the total for the casino that month.

The largest monthly revenue figure from sports betting alone over the current fiscal year so far among the four casinos came from Rivers in November. That month, the casino made over $1.7 million off of sports bets.

The total GGR for Rivers that month was more than $17.3 million. So at its zenith, retail sports betting revenue only accounted for about 9.8% of a NY commercial casino’s total take for a month in that time span.

There’s a final facet of this situation to take into consideration as well. It’s the most difficult to quantify but it’s absolutely necessary to understand the effect that online sportsbooks are having on casinos in NY.

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Commercial casinos are cut into the online sports betting deal

By law, all online sportsbooks in NY have to host their servers at one of the four commercial casinos in the state. The companies worked out those deals privately and the NYSGC hasn’t released any details of them.

Thus, it’s currently difficult to tell how much money the casinos are getting for providing that service. However, it helps to defray any loss of sports betting revenue that they might incur due to fewer bets being placed in-house.

In this small sampling, it looks like the state’s casinos are capable of getting along just fine while co-existing with online sportsbooks. Their success likely depends on many other factors outside of how often New Yorkers are betting on sports on their phones.

Photo by Seth Wenig / Associated Press
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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