Revenue Report: Through July, Detroit Casinos Down 65% From 2019

With Detroit's casinos closed in July, gambling revenue remained at zero while a casino in nearby Toledo, Ohio, broke revenue records.
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Through the first seven months of 2020, Detroit’s three casinos have generated $299.2 million, 65% less than the $854.4 million reported over the same period last year, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The precipitous drop was expected, since all three of the city’s casinos remained closed throughout July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the figures remain staggering. Through June, year-to-date revenue at MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel, and Greektown Casino-Hotel had fallen 59.3%, and after one more month of zero revenue, the gap widened.

Likewise, wagering taxes on casino revenue — a major facet of government budgets at the city and state levels — have fallen too. So far in 2020, the casinos have contributed $35.6 million to the City of Detroit, compared to $101.7 million through July 2019. The state’s take slipped from $69.2 million over the first seven months of 2019 to $24.2 million this year.

Barring major COVID-19 outbreaks, the worst is over

Next month, when the MGCB publishes casino revenues for August, the year-to-date figures will finally budge from that $299.2 million total, where it’s been stuck since March 16, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Detroit’s casinos and other non-essential businesses closed to control the fast-spreading pandemic.

Another Whitmer executive order in late July permitted Detroit’s casinos to reopen at 15% capacity, with COVID-19 precautions in place, beginning Aug. 5. The MotorCity and Greektown casinos both welcomed guests that day, while MGM Grand Detroit opened its doors on Aug. 7.

The casinos don’t expect to hit pre-COVID revenue levels while operating at limited capacity and with many potential guests still wary of risking infection by visiting indoor public spaces, but casino leaders said they were pleased to be back serving customers, employing previously furloughed workers, and generating tax revenue for the city and state.

“The customer demand indicates that people are excited that we are open for business,” said David Tsai, president of MGM Resorts International’s Midwest group. “Since opening, the feedback from guests and team members alike has been overwhelmingly positive. Those customers who visited our casino during opening weekend appreciated and adhered to the robust health and safety protocols we implemented.”

“MotorCity Casino Hotel is pleased to have reopened,” said MotorCity President Bruce Dall. “We have been able to proactively manage capacity and provide our guests with an enjoyable entertainment experience by posting current wait times and available casino floor capacity on our website. While our focus continues to be on providing our employees and guests with a safe environment, we look forward to when we will be able to expand our operations.”

Michigan’s loss was Ohio’s gain

While Michigan’s commercial casinos remained closed through July, Ohio allowed casinos to reopen on June 19, and in its first full month of operation, Toledo’s Hollywood Casino raked in $33.3 million, the highest monthly total for any state-approved casino since Ohio permitted them to open in 2012. Hollywood Casino’s previous record-high was $20.4 million, in June 2012, and the Horseshoe Cleveland Casino — now the Jack Cleveland Casino — generated the former statewide record of $26.1 million in the same month.

Much of Toledo’s July bounty came from gamblers from Detroit and Southeastern Michigan, for whom the 70-mile drive was shorter than a trip to any of Michigan’s tribal casinos. “We think a lot of those folks in Detroit came down to Toledo for gaming,” said Jessica Franks, a spokesperson for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, in the Toledo Blade. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that the Detroit casinos have reopened. We’re kind of curious as to what happens next month.”

Detroit’s casino executives and the government budget officials who depend on wagering taxes for city and state finances probably wince when they see record-setting revenue numbers just across the state border, but at least Hollywood Casino Toledo’s landmark month suggests the demand for casino gaming and sports betting is strong in Michigan.

That certainly seemed to be the case at MotorCity’s reopening last Wednesday, when cars wrapped around Grand River Avenue waiting to get inside the casino parking lot and guests professed joy at no longer having to drive 90 minutes to play the slots.

“It’s about time!” said Jean Manz, of St. Clair Shores. “We’ve been driving to Toledo.”

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