Compared to the same month last year, Atlantic City casinos' internet gaming platforms more than doubled their winnings during April, the first full month of a state-mandated brick-and-mortar casino shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

Because the gaming halls themselves pulled in absolutely nothing during the month, total gaming revenue for April ($82.6 million) reflected a 68.9% decrease compared to April 2019, according to figures released Wednesday by the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Just under $80 million was pulled in online, compared to $37.5 million last year, and another $2.6 million in revenue came from sports wagering, compared to last April's $21.2 million.

Year-to-date, total gaming revenue is down 19% from a year prior.

"Internet gaming win" now accounts for nearly a third of the money brought in by Atlantic City casinos so far this year. At the same point last year, it accounted for 13% of the total haul.

"The almost 120% increase internet gaming is a welcomed alternative source of revenue for the casinos and the state of New Jersey," Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, said in a written statement. "April's results prove that the gambling public is looking for a substitute when the casinos are closed. However, just like take-out for fine dining restaurants, I think everyone is looking forward to getting back to the full experience."

Bokunewicz said the return of live major sports, such as Major League Baseball, would offer another boost to casinos that have online sports betting. Approximately 85% of sports bets in New Jersey are booked online, she said.

On March 16, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order that forced the closure of all casinos and other entertainment businesses for the time being.

With that move, gaming revenues for the month of March were down 44% year over year. And with individuals essentially forced to stay at home, internet winnings jumped by more than 65%.

"More new customers are coming online, existing customers are gambling more, and the numbers are at least helping the brick-and-mortar casino industry sustain some revenue," said gaming expert Bill Pascrell III with Princeton Public Affairs Group. "I think what will be the surprise is the continued growth. I think that the online gaming industry in New Jersey is going to continue to trampoline up."

Reopening to the public

Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday said the state may take additional steps to reopen the economy in the coming days — state and county parks are permitted to operate, along with golf courses, and nonessential businesses can begin offering curbside pickup on Monday. Murphy did not mention casinos in his remarks; it's expected gaming halls won't be part of the process for a while.

"It looks like the Governor is going to make sure that they don't open unless they're fully prepared," industry analyst Anthony Marino said of Atlantic City's casinos. "I know the industry is lobbying for at least Memorial Day Weekend, but I don't think they're going to be ready by then."

Even when casinos are given the green light to open their gaming tables, restaurants and hotel rooms in a way that limits occupancy throughout the properties, it could take them "many months" to make good money, Marino said.

"I'm not sure that by this time next year we're going to have nine casinos in operation in Atlantic City," Marino said.

Marino anticipates casinos will open with far fewer employees than they had prior to the pandemic.

"We want Atlantic City to be ready to open as soon as the government determines it is appropriate to do so," Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said in an emailed statement. "That is why we are working with AtlantiCare, our regional healthcare provider, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures our properties are prepared and ready to reopen when the stay-at-home order is lifted."

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