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story.lead_photo.caption A dealer conducts a game of roulette on June 28, 2021, at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Figures released Tuesday, Aug. 10 by the American Gaming Association show the nation's commercial casinos had their best second quarter in history, with $13.6 billion in revenue, and are on pace to have their best year ever in 2021 as gamblers return to in-person casinos. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Gamblers anxious to hit the slot machines and table games in person after a year of coronavirus restrictions are lifting the U.S. casino industry to its best year ever.

But the great unknown is whether a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 will slow an industry now winning money at a record pace.

Data released Tuesday by the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group, show America’s casinos had their best second quarter in history, taking in $13.6 billion.

The report also shows the industry has nearly equaled all of the revenue U.S. casinos took in during 2020, amid widespread casino shutdowns and restrictions that lingered even after they reopened.

It is clear 2021 could be the best year in history for U.S. casinos. The gambling halls are on track to surpass 2019 ($43.6 billion) as the highest-grossing year ever. Nearly $25 billion has been won during the first six months of this year.

The association said casinos remain open without capacity restrictions in all 25 states that have commercial casinos.

(those not run by Indian tribes).

Twenty-two of those states saw increases in gambling revenue in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2019, excluding last year’s comparison that’s skewed by months of closures. And 19 of the 25 states surpassed their totals for the first half of 2019.

Sports betting and internet gambling helped keep the casino industry alive last year when physical casinos were shut down. But it is in-person gambling that is fueling the industry’s recovery this year.

The AGA said that is due to the easing of COVID-related restrictions, as well as pent-up consumer demand.

Second-quarter sports betting revenue declined 8% from the previous quarter to $889 million, due to a quieter sports calendar.

Internet gambling revenue also had a strong second quarter, achieving a new quarterly revenue record of $901 million, up 15% from the first quarter of 2021.

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