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American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller said Thursday that while sportsbooks across the country are mulling their fall strategies over a potential cancellation of college football, he remains hopeful the NFL will go forward with its season.

During a conference call with reporters after the release of a second quarter gaming financial report, Miller highlighted the return of MLB, NHL, NBA, golf and auto racing for helping the performance of sportsbooks. He also cited how he was encouraged by reports of consumer demand that has bolstered casino revenues and remains optimistic about the industry once it navigates the coronavirus pandemic.

Several states have reported a year-over-year uptick in average daily gross gaming revenue per open casino despite operating with limited capacity, game availability, and amenities, Miller said. This includes South Dakota (+42.5%), Ohio (+19.3%), and Indiana (+7.4%).

Miller said the lack of sports created a void in wagering that’s now being filled with the return of baseball, hockey and professional basketball. He cited how sportsbooks took more bets on the MLB July 23 Opening Day game between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals than any previous baseball game.

“We expect a similar amount of betting interest around the NBA and NFL,” Miller said. “There are outlets for people that want to bet on sports, and there’s a belief the NBA and NHL has done really well in terms of their bubble concept. And the NFL is moving forward with a regular season that looks like a previous regular season.

“It would be a significant loss in sports betting if the NFL were not to go forward, but I think there’s a pretty strong commitment to move forward. I’m hopeful that’s the way things go.”

Miller said the industry needs to be nimble and adjust to new realities and whatever happens with football, especially college football. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have canceled their seasons, but the ACC, SEC and Big 12 are proceeding for now.

Miller cited how other team sports will have their playoffs through the fall, and how the NBA and NHL have been successful in not having any COVID-19 outbreaks. The golf season proceeds through early December with two more majors — the U.S. Open and Masters planned for the fall.

Sports betting experienced a sharp decline in gross gaming revenue in the second quarter due to the shutdown of sports but was still up slightly (4.1%) in the first half of 2020 as a result of a record start to the year and increased legal options, Miller said. Overall commercial gaming revenue  was up 10.4% in January and February compared to the previous year before 989 casinos shut down nationwide in March with spread-out reopenings in May, June and July.

“What was shaping up to be a tremendous year for gaming evaporated overnight as the public health crisis shut down the industry,” Miller said. “The second quarter reports reflect the uphill climb we still face, but it has set a benchmark for the rest of the year. Despite this, I’m optimistic for our industry, and the responsible opening of gaming is well underway with 850 casinos at least partially reopened.”

Miller said the industry is doing it safely, citing how Wynn Resorts in administering 16,000 tests had about 300 test positive but of which 99 percent were exposed outside of Wynn.

“I have been hearing similar stories from other executives,” Miller said.

Miller said it continues to be a challenging time for the travel and tourism industry with leisure and business travel coming to a halt during the pandemic. Regional casinos have bounced back faster than Las Vegas because consumers are more comfortable driving than flying at this time.

“I think it underscores the need for Congress to act quickly to provide relief (for another stimulus that is tied up in a political fight on Capitol Hill). The provided relief earlier in the year and we need that relief again for the gaming and hospitality industry,” Miller said. “When Americans are ready to travel again, Las Vegas is unquestionably going to be ready for them. Its innovative entertainment will be there when people feel much more comfortable traveling.”

About the Author

Buck Wargo

Buck Wargo is a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and has been based in Las Vegas as a business, real estate and gaming reporter since 2005.

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