Penn National Gaming CEO Says Casino Recovery Has Been ‘Incredible' as Covid Vaccines Roll Out

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  • "The month of March has been incredible," Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden told CNBC on Tuesday.
  • People are feeling more comfortable returning to casinos as Covid vaccines roll out, Snowden said.
  • "We had one of the biggest weekends this last weekend that we have seen in years," he said.

Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden told CNBC on Tuesday the company is seeing a strong recovery at its properties as Covid vaccines are making people feel more comfortable returning to casinos.

"What we're seeing right now in the business ... is revenues and volumes that I haven't seen in years. The month of March has been incredible, " Snowden said in an interview on "Squawk Box."

Penn National, which this week joined the S&P 500, has 41 gaming and racetrack properties in 19 states. After facing casino closures in the early days of the coronavirus, Snowden said the reopening in the spring and summer of 2020 proved to be mixed — attendance was low compared to non-pandemic levels, but engagement from those who ventured in was high.

"We saw really high spend per visit when people came, but the visitation was still way down year over year because those that were 65-plus years old weren't coming back," Snowden said.

As of Monday evening, just over 69% of U.S. residents aged 65 and up have received at least one Covid vaccine dose and 42.5% of that population have been fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Nearly 25% people in America have received at least one shot, including 13.5% of the entire population who have been fully vaccinated.

Three vaccines have been approved for emergency use in the U.S. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two shots for full immunity protection. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is a single dose.

Increasing vaccination rates in the U.S., running at about 2.5 million shots per day, is seen as key to helping the economy continue to dig out of its pandemic-induced recession, allowing for people to resume activities that they otherwise shied away from during the health crisis. Penn National is observing those effects, Snowden said.

"What we're seeing now is the spend per visit was still much higher than it was pre-Covid, but visitation levels now in the month of March look a lot like they did in 2019, so you have those two things working together," he said. "We had one of the biggest weekends this last weekend that we have seen in years."

However, even with Covid immunity protection increasing from vaccinations and high levels of prior infection, the seven-day average of new cases rose by 5% or more in 27 states, as of Sunday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Penn National also has a partnership with Barstool Sports to offer the Barstool Sportsbook app, enabling online betting in three states so far — Pennsylvania, Michigan and, most recently, Illinois — with hopes of launching in more states this year.

Through the Barstool Sportsbook, Snowden said there's been a lot of interest in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, known as March Madness, which has seen a lot of bracket-busting upsets in the early rounds.

"All the wagers that took place on Super Bowl, we almost surpassed that amount in Pennsylvania and Michigan ... on the first day of March Madness," Snowden said. "We blew past, almost doubled, what we saw for Super Bowl within the first two days of March Madness."

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