Boom for Live casinos as COVID-19 Vaccine on Its Way

The biggest news worldwide this month has been the announcement of various COVID-19 vaccines, and that will have a massive impact on poker players and the wider gaming community – both live and online.

By: Andrew Burnett

For the majority of 2020, almost every major event has gone online, from the smallest local poker leagues all the way up to the World Series of Poker.

While the bricks and mortar industry has been ravaged by lockdowns from Vegas to Macau, the online operators have been taking up the slack, giving players the chance to play and gamble to their hearts’ content.

But what happens next once a vaccine becomes available? Does everything suddenly reverse? Players give up online play and return in droves to their local casinos? Not necessarily according to those in the industry.

“Once the vaccine is widely available and/or there’s effective treatments for COVID, the 55+ and 65+ year old online player segments will probably return to land-based casinos as they’ll feel more comfortable leaving their homes more often,” Penn National Gaming CEO, Jay Snowden, told CNBC recently.

However, for the younger generations, the 21-40 age group, this is less likely to happen. “We’ve got this young audience who’ve come to online casinos, as there are less forms of entertainment like concerts and sporting events, and they are having a great time.”

The huge increases in online numbers, attracted to online poker and to other casino games through sites such as Casimple, as well as the streaming and podcasts that have attracted massive numbers of completely new ‘players’ won’t just disappear.

Not least because it will take the land-based industry time to catch up with the losses incurred during a year of struggles.

In the UK, for example, Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher recently revealed: “There have been substantial reductions in employment with one operator having reduced its workforce by over 40 per cent to date.

He added: “Casino businesses had strong balance sheets at the start of the year, the same is no longer the case with costs during closure amounting to up to £15 million per month for some operators.”

For those operators who have their fingers in both online and bricks and mortar pies, things have been more balanced, Penn Gaming mentioned above among those whose online arm helped offset the live venue troubles.

The story for investors is rather less obvious, with share prices of online markets tumbling quickly on news of possible vaccines – the likes of Flutter Entertainment, PokerStars parent company, and GVC Holdings, who own partypoker, hit by the recent BioNTech/Pfizer announcements.

That clashed with the likes of Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, all of whose shares immediately revived – by as much as 25% in Wynn’s case.

Wynn, with a large footprint in Macau, has been among the worst affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, revenue down over 77% year-on-year, although CEO Matt Maddox said he was "encouraged by the progress we have made in each of our properties over the past several months."

We don’t yet know what a vaccine will mean for players and gamblers planning their 2021 live schedules just yet. Any vaccine will take time to roll out and will likely mean different ‘rules’ in different countries and regions.

Overall, it is a positive sign of course, and the clever money says that the gains made by live casinos and related industries will be more than that lost by online-focused markets.

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