2021: Gaming America's review of the industry this year

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From sports betting to cashless, Gaming America looks at the highlights of 2021.

As 2021 comes to a close we are not as far from the troubles of 2020 that we perhaps hoped to be by now. Many of the questions and worries we had at the beginning of the year persist. However, away from Covid-19 this year has undoubtedly been a positive one for gaming in the United States; with mergers everywhere, sports betting coming to dominate the landscape, new regulations being passed every week and cashless gaming entering the mainstream, this year has been nonstop. So before 2022 comes around and a new year of growth and development begins again, here is a look back on a year that will be remembered not just for the industry's remarkable recovery, but its extraordinary growth.

Mergers, Mergers, Mergers

 2021 was another year of mergers and acquisitions. As the market recovered, M&As spread throughout the industry, seeing some of the biggest names in American gaming join forces, producing new heavy hitters to rival industry giants. From DraftKings’ $1.56bn purchase of Golden Nugget Online Gaming to Scientific Games taking over Lightning Box in its attempt to become the world’s biggest gaming company, we have seen a multitude of market-shifting agreements. Other key M&As include Penn National Gaming’s purchase of theScore Media for $2bn and Bally’s Corporation’s $2.7bn acquisition of Gamesys Group, as the company moves to unify the land-based and iGaming experience.

Not all deals have been successful however, and not everyone was a winner in 2021, with a number of M&A sagas rattling on all throughout the year. Specifically, the British sports betting giant Entain has been subject of a plethora of bids from North American companies, ones that have ultimately been rejected. This began when MGM Resorts International, co-owner of the BetMGM sports betting platform, offered an impressive $10.7bn for the operator. This bid, which came quite early in the year, was rejected and never pursued further. However, American eyes remained fixed on the British company; later in the year, the sports betting behemoth DraftKings tabled a mouth-watering $22bn, offering 2,800 pence per Entain share. Alas, this union was doomed also, with DraftKings pulling out of proceedings in late October, citing its confidence to maintain a leadership position in the rapidly growing North American sports betting market. MGM Resorts International likely had something to say about this potential acquisition, its sportsbook being co-owned by one of its largest rivals may not have been ideal.

From this, we can clearly see the growing influence the US has on the gaming world.

Playtech also saw a bidding war arise over its ownership in 2021, with Aristocrat, the Eddie Jordan-led JKO Play, and Gopher Investments all attempting to purchase the company. The result of this saga remains up in the air as of the end of the year.

 What did this mean for the industry in 2021, though? Well, M&As have been rife for a number of years, but 2021 saw the number increase even further and we saw the power of US brands materialize in their ability to purchase European companies. From this, we can clearly see the growing influence the US has on the gaming world. 

Sports betting is king

 What a year it was for sports betting in North America. As the year went on, more and more states regulated the activity and reached record revenues, while Canada, driven by the progress made by its southern neighbor, finalized steps to launch legal single-event sports betting throughout the country. As of December 2021, there are 31 states (+Washington DC ) that have live and legal sports betting. This year saw states such as Arizona, New York, Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio and Virginia, among others, approve or launch sports betting within their borders. This explosion in regulation was joined by a wave of record monthly revenue. November alone saw Michigan, Iowa and Indiana smash existing revenue numbers as professional and college football returned in full force. 

2021 also saw sportsbooks become increasingly involved with media companies and official sports teams, as their influence on the sporting landscape continued to grow. August saw the National Football League announce agreements with four sports betting operators in a first-of-its-kind deal in the US. These operators, Fox Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet and WynnBet, gained access to a multitude of NFL-based media, further entrenching sports betting’s role in the national sporting landscape. Other high-profile media and betting partnerships include the 888-led Sports Illustrated Sportsbook, and the suggestion from Disney that it is ready to enter the market; both pertinent examples of America’s most well-known media names embracing sports betting.

Welcome to the age of cashless

Gaming has often been reluctant to embrace new technology, yet 2021 saw one new piece of tech enter the mainstream. As a result of a reluctance to use cash amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the sheer ease of use it brings, cashless well and truly took off this year. Some of the biggest suppliers in the industry put their cashless plans into full swing, with IGT’s Resort Wallet and IGTPay Cashless technologies becoming available throughout Oklahoma, Washington and Aqua Caliente Casino properties across California, as well as other locations. This was just one of the numerous cashless technologies that, as experts from industry giants like Aristocrat have suggested, are set to revolutionize the industry.

A year to remember

Gaming has often been reluctant to embrace new technology, yet 2021 saw one new piece of tech enter the mainstream.

2021 will not be a year quickly forgotten, and it has been the same for the gaming industry. From mergers to the explosion of cashless, this year has been an exceptional one for gaming in the US, huge events like G2E returned and the land-based industry recovered and grew in a way few could have anticipated. Beyond that gaming well and truly entered the mainstream of American society, with the biggest teams and leagues striking deals with operators new and old as sports embraced betting in a previously unseen way. The year was equally impressive in Canada, where the country voted to legalize single-event sports betting, paving the way for a market to rival its southern neighbor. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Gaming America

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