Illinois gamblers are heading back to the slots and game tables.
On March 16, Illinois shut down bars, restaurants and casinos because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a three month shutdown, people were eager to get back to the casinos and video terminals when gambling got the green light again on July 1.
Revenues at stand-alone terminals in bars, gas stations and restaurants were up 24% in July, significantly beating out profits during July of 2019.
“People may have been more comfortable going to a small bar or restaurant to gamble at first,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.
He said the number of casino visitors has started to climb slowly but surely.
Illinois’ 10 casinos have taken the COVID-19 protocols seriously – they could lose their licenses if they do not, Swoik said. So gamblers will notice a difference when they return.
Buffets are gone. Valet parking is gone. The staff is screened daily. Game tables are surrounded by plexiglass. Masks are mandatory.
“I think we are one of the safest places to be because we are continuously cleaning and monitoring,” Swoik said.
Casino revenues were down 29% in July 2020, compared to July 2019, Swoik said. However, that is better than expected because the number of people who visited casinos in Illinois in July was down by half over the number of visitors in 2019, he said.
As people feel more comfortable venturing out, Swoik said he expects the number of casino visitors to continue to increase. Just how far off 2020 casino revenues will wind up remains to be seen, he said.
Some casinos are anticipating that the three months of the shutdown and the big drop off in casino attendance will mean a 50% drop in overall 2020 revenues.
One bright spot for casino operators is the re-introduction of sports betting at seven casinos.
Rivers Casino in Des Plaines had just introduced its sports betting book on March 9, just a few days before the statewide COVID-19 shutdown was imposed. Three Illinois casinos – including Rivers Casino – have sportsbooks operating on their premises. Four more Illinois casinos are expected to add sportsbooks soon.