The gaming industry will soon begin comparisons to the ‘pre-COVID-19’ era By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports June 6, 2020 at 4:00 am Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter said one reason he enjoyed long-distance running was his willingness “to move forward and find out what happens next.” That might be an appropriate description for the nation’s gaming industry as it moves forward in a post-pandemic era. As of Friday, 519 commercial and tribal casinos had reopened in 25 states, according to figures compiled by the American Gaming Association and CDC Gaming Reports. That’s more than half of the 989 casinos in 43 states that closed starting in the middle of March as coronavirus began spreading across the country. On Wednesday, the AGA quietly released its annual “State of States” report which showed the nation’s commercial casino industry collected a record of $43.6 billion in gaming revenues in 2019. Over the next few years, $43.6 billion will be known as the “pre-COVID-19” figure. We’re used to that type of description. After 2001, annual and monthly gaming revenues in Nevada were referred to as “pre-9/11” totals, marking the declines Strip casinos suffered as travel restrictions curtailed the airline industry following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The economic meltdown in 2008 and 2009 led to the term, “pre-Recession” numbers. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in the New Orleans area, gaming revenues after 2005 were often compared with “pre-Hurricane Katrina” numbers. Nevada casinos collected $12 billion in gaming revenues in 2019, the first time in 12 years the state reached that lofty total. Strip casinos collected $6.6 billion in gaming revenues in each of the last two years. It will be a few years before the nation’s largest gaming market sees those numbers again. A customer heads toward the Sahara Las Vegas entrance on Thursday morning after the casino was closed for 78 days As we enter the pre-COVID-19 gaming revenue era, the term, “marathon, not a sprint,” best defines the industry’s post-pandemic recovery. The reboot of the Nevada casinos, which began Thursday, is a prime example. Less than half of the Las Vegas Strip casinos reopened after being closed for 78 days. The market is pacing itself. On Friday, Harrah’s Las Vegas was the 14th casino to reopen. MGM Resorts International, which opened three hotel-casinos on Thursday, will reopen Excalibur next week. MGM acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Bailey Schultz the company was taking a “one step at a time” approach. “We’re going to be patient; it is about doing this correctly and doing it safely first and foremost.” That is a trend we’re seeing in other commercial markets. Louisiana and Mississippi restarted their casinos before Memorial Day Weekend at a slow pace. Indiana will reopen its 13 casinos on June 14. On Friday, Ohio’s governor gave the state’s four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo and seven racetrack casinos permission to reopen in two weeks. However, we still don’t have reopening dates for the gaming industry in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey’s Atlantic City. Nevada’s scaled-back casino reopening was absent large conventions, major showroom attractions, nightclubs, and many of the high-end, celebrity chef-operated restaurants that have landed space on the Strip over the past couple of decades. Throughout the gaming industry, casinos are reopening under health and safety guidelines covering cleaning and sanitation efforts, and social distancing protocols that reduce the number of slot machines and table game seats on casino floors. With airline travel at historic lows and some states retaining stay-at-home measures, monthly gaming revenues will not be at pre-COVID-19 totals for months. Coronavirus will continue to hover over the U.S., possibly until a vaccine is developed. The virus changed the way the gaming industry operates, at least for the time being. But reopening casinos – deemed by some as controversial – was a necessary step for the industry, as long as everyone sticks to the new normal. We all hope that “what happens next” isn’t a step back. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.