Casinos in Massachusetts recorded a strong month of revenue in March, with totals hitting pre-pandemic levels for the first time since COVID-19 brought the gaming industry to a halt last spring.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino had brought in a combined $84 million last month. That’s more than any month since February 2020.
The totals are an encouraging sign for the industry, which still faces capacity restrictions and must follow strict public health protocols after months of anemic business. Casino operators across the country have for months been hoping to see a surge in visits as vaccinations rise.
Paul DeBole, a political science professor at Lasell University who follows the state’s gaming industry closely, said he sees indications of pent-up demand in the latest numbers. But he said it’s too soon to evaluate the post-pandemic prospects of the Massachusetts facilities.
The March showing could be an indication that the industry is getting back on its feet, he said. Or it could be a blip.
If some of the increase was made up of one-time visitors, DeBole said, that may not help the casinos much. And any setback in the fight against COVID-19 could hurt businesses everywhere.
“I’m encouraged. We’ve had a year of being in the doldrums,” DeBole said. “If they bounce back to pre-pandemic numbers, that’s great — bearing in mind that the pre-pandemic numbers weren’t anywhere near what was expected.
Even before COVID-19, the casino industry in Massachusetts had not been generating the level of revenue that had been expected when the state legalized gambling expansion in 2011.
In March, Encore Boston Harbor brought in $49.7 million in gambling revenue, the bulk of that money coming from slot machines. Before the pandemic, table games had generally been the primary driver of revenue at the Everett casino. It was Encore’s biggest revenue month since February 2020.
The casino may be able to pick up some additional money from tables, after the gaming commission in mid-March allowed craps to resume and blackjack tables to expand.
Revenue at MGM Springfield was particularly strong, at $22.1 million for March, according to the commission. That’s more than in any month since May 2019, a month before the opening of Encore.
And Plainridge Park Casino, which does not have table games, earned $12.2 million from its slot machines, more than in any month since July 2019.