PA Lockdown

Pennsylvania regulators have order all casinos to close, but most were already in the process of suspending operations voluntarily to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Valley Forge Casino Resort (l.) was the first to close.

Over the past two weeks, various Pennsylvania casinos began shutting down operations voluntarily to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

On Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made it official: The board instructed any of the 12 casino properties that remained open to close to the public by 6 a.m., Tuesday, March 17.

“The order to close follows the rapid expansion of reported Covid-19 cases, and is aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus,” the board said in its press announcement of the closure. “While the closure of the casinos is temporary, there is no specific indication of when reopening will occur.”

As it turns out, only six properties had not closed by that time. Half of Pennsylvania’s casino licensees had already taken the initiative and closed on their own.

“Valley Forge was the first to close; Parx was closing, Harrah’s Philadelphia was closing,” Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, told GGB News. “Rivers in Philadelphia voluntarily closed, and others were in the process of voluntarily closing when we made the announcement. In the end, they all closed by order of the board, but we do that in conjunction with the (advice) coming out of the governor’s office, and out of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

Meanwhile, Penn National Gaming voluntarily halted construction on its two licensed mini-casinos—Hollywood Casino York at the York Galleria Mall, and Penn National Morgantown in Berks County.

Jay Snowden, president and CEO of Penn National Gaming, said in a statement that the construction halt is a voluntary move to minimize the economic effect of the Covid-19 shutdown on the company. “We fully support the governor’s effort to try to stem the tide of this unprecedented public health threat,” Snowden said. “We also believe it’s prudent to revisit any and all capital expenditure commitments in order to help preserve liquidity in light of the impact of Covid-19 on our business.

“We look forward to continuing to consult with the governor’s office, as well as local, state and federal health authorities to determine when construction might resume. In the meantime, we appreciate the patience, understanding and support of our community leaders in Morgantown and York, as well as our local construction teams.”

As of Thursday, there was no official announcement from Cordish Companies on its two Pennsylvania construction projects under the Stadium Casino subsidiary—Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, and its licensed mini-casino, Live! Casino Pittsburgh at the Westmoreland Mall in Western Pennsylvania.

However, McGarvey indicated it is likely that construction will be halted as well, although not under the board’s direction. “We do not direct them on that particular front; we were really concerned about the public coming into the casinos and the gatherings and the entertainment side of it, not on the construction side,” he said.

“The public health and safety of patrons, casino employees and others are of paramount importance,” the gaming board’s statement said. “The board is continuously monitoring developments and will update licensees and the public as frequently as possible with any new developments. Up-to-date information on the impact of the Covid-19 virus on the commonwealth’s gaming industry regulated by the Gaming Control Board can be found on the agency’s website.”

The closure brings the second-largest casino gaming market in the U.S. from a revenue standpoint to a grinding halt. The state has 12 operating casinos, plus the 13th and three mini-casinos under construction.

Pennsylvania also has a thriving sports-betting business, which is likewise at a standstill because of the suspension of sports due to the Covid-19 crisis. In February, Pennsylvania sportsbooks surpassed $2 billion in lifetime bets. February handle produced $4.7 million in gross revenue, with $1.6 million going to the state.

“The next few months are impossible to predict until we get a better handle on how long the coronavirus will affect not just sports and the gaming industry, but all of daily life,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for, in a report published Wednesday.

“The immediate outlook of sportsbooks is secondary right now. But there is little doubt that the industry will be affected significantly, at least in the short term…

“After a slow start, Pennsylvania sportsbooks have continually matured into the market that we all thought it would be when the state first legalized sports betting,” Gouker said. “The state has only begun to scratch the surface of its potential. In fact, Pennsylvania was on track to reach $4 billion in lifetime handle by the beginning of the NFL season. But it would take a quick recovery from the coronavirus outbreak to reach that milestone now.”

Online casino gaming is one way the state can make up some of that money. The state’s online casinos and poker rooms generated a record $19.5 million in revenue last month, up from $14 million in January.

Online casinos continue to jump into the market, including FanDuel/Valley Forge Casino and BetAmerica in late January,” said the report. “But unforeseen issues, including iOS problems that have reduced the size of game libraries, and relatively high fees and tax rates, have conspired to slow the industry’s start compared with booming New Jersey.

“Online casinos have dealt with headwinds that have been more forceful than anything that New Jersey operators have had to face,” Gouker said. “These are mostly just growing pains, and it is a near-certainty that online casinos will take off.”