Maryland casinos survive capacity-constrained December

Maryland’s six casinos had a disappointing December after the two largest operators saw their already limited capacity further reduced mid-month due to the state’s soaring COVID-19 infection rate.

Figures released Tuesday by the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Agency show statewide casino gaming revenue of nearly $119.4m in December, down 20% from the same month last year and $11m below November 2020’s total.

The state’s two largest casinos – MGM National Harbor and Cordish Gaming’s Live! Casino & Hotel – saw their already pandemic-restrained capacity of 50% reduced to just 25% last month. The state’s third-largest casino, Caesars Entertainment’s Horseshoe Baltimore, was already limited to 25% capacity when December began.

Despite those limitations, National Harbor reported gaming revenue of $48.5m in December, down only 22.5% year-on-year, while Live! fared even better, falling just 17.2% to $42.9m. The perpetually challenged Horseshoe, on the other hand, was down nearly one-third year-on-year to just $12.7m.

As for the state’s lesser lights, Hollywood Casino Perryville slipped only 8.4% to $6.6m, Ocean Downs was off 10% to $5.1m while Rocky Gap found a lump of coal in its revenue stocking, falling 16.3% to $3.5m.

December’s downturn also hurt the state, which saw its share of gaming revenue fall by $10.8m to $49.8m. The state plans to reassess its casino capacity limits before January 17, but the state counted 54 new COVID deaths on Tuesday, the highest total of this young new year, so don’t count on any rush to loosen the restraints.

The Maryland legislature will commence its 2021 session next week, and casino operators are hoping for quick movement on sports betting legislation following last November’s ballot measure, which saw Maryland voters approve gambling expansion by a large margin.

Legislators will need to establish the parameters of enabling legislation – who gets to offer betting, whether online-only operators need to be ‘tethered’ to a land-based licensee, tax rates, license fees, etc. – before the legislative session ends in mid-April.

However, sports betting has broad support in both legislative chambers and from Gov. Larry Hogan, so with any luck Maryland Lottery & Gaming will be crafting regulations and vetting betting license applicants by summer. Or stakeholder bickering will derail this betting gravy train long before it reaches the station.

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