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Voters In Six States Give COVID-Battered Gambling Business A Big Boost

November 05, 2020 at 05:45PM

Legal sports betting has literally gone from zero to 25 in the United States in just 2-1/2 years, as Louisiana, Maryland and South Dakota voters this week passed ballot initiatives that will allow residents to place bets on teams and events. At the same time, Colorado, Nebraska and Virginia approved measures that would expand casino gaming, in what amounted to a six-for-six sweep at the ballot box for gambling.

The result is that legal sports betting is truly a nationwide industry now, whereas it was largely limited to Las Vegas and Atlantic City not all that long ago.

“Some form of legal gaming is currently authorized in 44 states, and more than 45 percent of American adults – 115 million – live in states with legal, regulated sports betting and the safeguards these markets provide,” American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller said in a post-election statement.

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Miller touted the latest ballot results’ economic upsides, saying they would give “more Americans access to much-needed job opportunities, dedicated tax revenue and safe, regulated entertainment options closer to home.”

Next Steps

The explosion of sports betting began in May 2018 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that overturned a federal law that had banned betting on professional and amateur teams in most states. That law had allowed for the existence of a robust sports-betting black market estimated at $150 billion annually.

But in the wake of this week’s voting results, implementing new sports-betting stations or slot machines in the affected states could be as simple as adding floor space, equipment and staff within existing operations.

However, in places such as Maryland, the way forward will take longer. The state’s sports-betting Question 2 only authorizes the legislature to establish laws and set up a licensing, taxing and regulatory regime with the state’s gaming commission.

Greater Acceptance

“It appears that Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with legalized gambling,” University of Nevada Las Vegas gambling historian David Schwartz told USA Today. “The addition of casinos in Virginia and racetrack casinos in Nebraska indicates that casino-style gambling is on the upswing as well. We have reached a point where voters seem satisfied that legalizing gambling will offer positive returns for their state.”

However, as more and more destinations come online, industry watchers say the risk of cannibalization will become a greater concern. After all, experts expect the pool of existing gamblers to stay fairly constant even as the supply of outlets steadily rises.

Show Me the Money

COVID-19 has also hurt the gaming industry, which is a major subset within travel and entertainment. Casinos hit with widespread closures saw revenues plunge 79 percent in the second quarter versus pre-pandemic levels.

But like most other businesses, the gambling industry has also seen a bounce off the bottom, and is starting to experience a nascent rebound in revenues.

According to the American Gaming Association’s most recent report, August marked the fourth consecutive month of recovery for the industry, with revenues rising 5.9 percent to $3.01 billion.

But while that’s welcome news for casino operators, employees and tax authorities, the AGA cautioned that “the path to a full recovery” was still long.

A Plea for Help

Given gambling’s growing national footprint and widespread support of the public, the industry isn’t bashful about asking for help, saying there remains an urgent need to assist the sector given the national economic crisis the pandemic created.

“To effectively recover, our industry needs critical relief that aids employee retention and rehiring, provides liability protections for responsible operators, supports tribal nations, and jumpstarts the travel and tourism industry,” the AGA said recently, noting that it would continue to work with leaders in Washington to advance those issues.

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