Hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the American gaming industry, including the expanding legal sports betting market, is optimistic the federal relief bill signed into law Friday by President Donald Trump will help its recovery.
The $2 trillion CARES Act provides emergency liquidity, tax relief and additional support for small businesses, among other measures that could benefit the gaming industry. The funds will be allocated to states then apportioned to individual industries based on economic figures like number of workers and taxable revenue generated.
It's a jolt of a good news for an industry that was excluded from federal relief packages after Hurricane Katrina and the 2008-09 financial crisis and is now facing its darkest days.
Essentially every commercial gaming establishment in the United States is closed, with no definitive timeline for a return. The American Gaming Association estimates 650,000 direct gaming employees have had work stoppages and $43.5 billion in economic activity could be lost if the shutdown were to last two months.
"We've made the case that we are important employers and important economic engines, whether it's the Gulf Coast, tribal country in Oklahoma or Western Pennsylvania," Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, told ESPN. "These legislators understand that they don't want to see these gaming communities go down."
On Thursday, Washington became the 21st state to pass sports betting legislation in the past two years. Legal bookmakers were operating in 16 states, with more jurisdictions preparing to launch, before casinos around the nation began closing.
While in-person sports betting has ceased, several online bookmakers in the U.S. remain open. Indiana, New Jersey, Nevada and Pennsylvania are among the states with active online sports betting, albeit with much smaller wagering menus.
The pandemic has stopped all major American and international sports, leaving bookmakers scrambling to find betting offerings for customers. Table tennis and hockey from Belarus were among the highlighted events at sportsbooks this week. On Thursday, Nevada Gaming Control authorized its sportsbooks to take bets on an esports tournament.
The new betting markets, however, are doing little to mitigate the loss of the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball. Multiple sportsbook operators told ESPN this week that they sometimes go hours without taking a single bet.
"It's certainly unfortunate," Miller said in a phone interview this week. "There is no sports in the U.S. to speak of so there is no sports betting industry in America."
With people around the world encouraged to stay at home, other forms of online gambling have seen upticks, including poker. PokerStars, a leading international online cardroom, held its largest online tournament ever this week, with an $18.6 million prize pool that attracted a record 93,016 entries.