Like many other industries, in-person casinos and sports betting took a major hit during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Casinos shut-down. Hotels shut down. Tourism was scuttled. Domestic and international travel became a headache. And truth be told, the gambling industry is still dealing with the ramifications of it all, as the pandemic has yet to truly end. At the same time, there are signs things in the industry could be returning to normal. But what does that look like?
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Everyone is looking at one place for signs of recovery in the sports betting and casino gaming industry: Las Vegas. They are the heart and soul of gambling entertainment in the United States, as well as one of the foremost tourist destinations around the world. If they're fully back up and running, it will be telltale of where the future is headed.
Identifying signs of recovery—and long-term growth—has become difficult as the world still grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. But recently, the return of the gambling expo to Las Vegas signals a steady rise in casino and sports betting.
Will this last? And what does it mean if it does? Let's explore.
Las Vegas Has Good News for Sports Betting and Casino Industries
On the heels of a rise in foot traffic for in-person sports and casino betting, industry leaders and vendors flooded Las Vegas for their annual conference at the beginning of October.
This Vegas expo, while a yearly staple, was forced to go virtual in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. And the focus at the remote event was almost solely on the declining business, and how the on-location gaming industry at large could be impacted by the top online sportsbooks, who were better suited to navigate the unprecedented circumstances.
Things were different this time around. While no official head count for attendees have been provided—nearly 30,000 people typically make the trip, but the 2021 Gambling Expo put strict COVID-19 guidelines in place—the event was packed and alive with chatter about the direction and access to gambling, as well as the encouraging and recent uptick in business.
Gambling Industry is Back on the Rise
Chief among the topics in Vegas: The latest updates on tourism in Nevada. Nearly 3 million people came through Vegas during August 2021, up more than 95 percent compared to August 2020.
What's more, these people are spending. It was reported back in September that casinos in Nevada had not only a promising second financial quarter, but the best financial quarter in history, raking in over $13.5 billion. Those returns put Nevada on pace to break its all-time yearly record of $43.6 billion, which it set in 2019.
Industry experts are hopeful that the increase of in-person gambling will continue to climb. COVID-19 numbers still aren't great in certain regions, even as more and more people get vaccinated, but both domestic and international travel is generally on the rise. It makes sense that business in Vegas will stay on the upward track, too.
However, it wasn't all sunshine and daisies at the gambling expo. Companies and vendors were forced to have a discussion about how the in-person betting experience could change forever, and what that says about their big-picture bottom line and the ability to improve their overall offerings.
Has the Casino Experience Changed Forever
Traces of the pandemic continue to linger throughout casinos and resorts in Vegas, even as hotels have reopened in full.
For starters, the max capacity in casinos has been adjusted to reflect the current focus on social distancing. People don't want to be on top of one another when playing slots and table games. Casinos have needed to space out their machines and put up plexiglass to adequately separate their patrons. By taking up more room, it has, for now, meant slightly less machines and tables in certain spots, as well as a lowered number of maximum guests.
Whether pre-pandemic protocols will ever return is, at the moment, anyone's guess. The smart money is on nothing changing anytime soon. In fact, parts of the local government in Vegas are actually fighting to keep certain restrictions in place.
Though casinos are exempt from indoor smoking bans, countermeasures were taken at the height of the pandemic. Smoking restrictions have since been lifted, but there is a push to reinstate them as people become more health and safety conscious, and as many continue to point out indoor smoking can be harmful to pregnant casino employees.
If Vegas and other casino hubs make any smoking bans permanent, it will be yet another prohibitive obstacle. Sure, it seems like a small shift—and one that accentuates safety. But it could also drive customers away, or at least compel them to make fewer overall trips to the casino and in-person sportsbooks.
Online Gaming Remains on the Rise
Beyond any lingering operational effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, casinos are faced with a larger problem that has become more of a nuisance long before now: the convenience of online sportsbooks.
Without the option of visiting casinos when the pandemic was at its worst, people flocked to virtual casinos and sportsbooks to get their gaming fix. The experience is largely the same, only they didn't have to leave the comfort of their own home and can play while on-the-go.
This issue has only become extra complicated as more and more states warm up to legal sports betting. Casino hubs in places like Vegas and Atlantic City are not only competing with the accessibility of online sportsbooks, but also more localized in-person options, particularly when it comes to sports betting.
To be fair, industry experts aren't overly concerned about these developments. Again: Casinos are on pace for record profits in 2021. But the novelty of these tourist locations reopening could wear off if life ever actually returns to normal. And while places like Vegas will always have tangible experiences such as dining and shows and other attractions on their side, there's no denying that the world of online gaming and increasing legality of sports gambling across the United State has forever changed, if not threatened, the traditional in-person betting experience.
Check out this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one is best suited to meet all your gambling needs: