There’s no way around it – this past year was tough. The down economy dealt most Americans challenges we haven’t faced in some time, if ever. For those of us in the commercial casino industry, that meant people had less money to spend on our products. Our revenues in 2009 fell 5.5 percent from 2008 to $30.74 billion. This is the story told in the 2010 edition of AGA’s State of the States report. But as challenging as the year was for most of us, that’s not the entire story.
In the midst of the challenges, State of the States reports that commercial casinos continued to be major employers, providing jobs for 330,000 people this past year and paying $13.1 billion in wages, benefits and tips. As always, casinos generated a healthy amount of tax revenues where they operate, returning nearly $5.59 billion to states and local communities through direct gaming taxes. This was a 1.6 percent decrease from 2008 contributions, but those taxes helped states and localities pay for important programs and services when deep budget deficits plagued most local and state governments.
And while a majority of states followed the national trend and experienced gaming revenue declines – New Jersey, Nevada and Mississippi were hardest hit – the State of the States report found that others did well. Colorado, Indiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania all witnessed gains. Pennsylvania saw the most significant increase, as revenues jumped more than 21 percent thanks to new properties opening there. In December, the first casino in Kansas welcomed visitors, becoming the 13th commercial casino state in the U.S.
As this year’s survey reports, a particular bright spot for the industry came in the racetrack casino sector, which continued to grow. Gross gaming revenues rose in 2009 to $6.40 billion, a 5 percent increase over 2008 figures. Gaming tax contributions from racinos also increased, with $2.63 billion being returned to state and local governments – a 1.2 percent increase. Racinos in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma saw significant employment increases in 2009; however, overall racino employment remained near the previous year’s level of 29,000 people.
For the second year, the AGA teamed up with the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) to highlight the significant contributions the gaming equipment manufacturing sector is making to the economy. The results show that despite the recession, this sector of our industry generated substantial revenue, supported tens of thousands of employees and paid billions of dollars in wages. Research conducted by Applied Analysis for AGEM shows that although direct revenues for gaming manufacturers were down to $12.1 billion – a 4.7 percent decrease compared to 2008 figures – direct employment rose to 30,000, with salaries and wages totaling $2.1 billion.
Survey results also show that gaming equipment manufacturers, like all segments of the commercial casino industry, provide important benefits to their employees nationwide and to their host communities. Most noteworthy, perhaps, 75 percent of those in the business are optimistic about growth prospects in the near future.
As these results indicate – and as we all know from our own interactions within the communities where we do business – commercial casinos have always been good and valuable neighbors. The tax revenues, jobs, charitable contributions and other social and economic benefits our industry brings with it have created a great deal of goodwill. To provide a fuller picture of the impact of casinos in host communities – and to better understand the attitudes and gambling habits of casino county residents – the AGA commissioned VP Communications, Inc., and national pollster Peter D. Hart, to ask people living and working in gaming communities what they think of their commercial casino “neighbors.”
The results showed that our neighbors like us and like what we do. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) think casinos have had a positive impact on the community, and an even higher percentage (69 percent) say casinos have had a positive impact on their area’s tourism industry. A solid majority (62 percent) says casinos are beneficial during recessionary times because of the tax revenues, tourism and jobs we generate. In perhaps the most telling result of the survey, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of those surveyed would vote “yes” if a referendum were held to decide whether or not to keep casino gaming in their communities.
This result tells us that we’re doing a good job not only as contributors to the economic fortunes of host communities, but we’re succeeding as responsible corporate citizens. It tells those who are considering the prospects for casino gaming within their own communities that average citizens who have experienced our business embrace us. And it puts the lie to opponents’ claims that casinos bring nothing to communities but predation and degradation. The people have spoken, and they clearly say otherwise..
At the national level, the State of the States report reveals that more than one-quarter of the U.S. adult population visited a casino during 2009, totaling approximately 61.7 million people. Only the lottery was a more popular form of gambling than visiting a casino.
Slot machines are the favorite game for most casino-goers and have been for a number of years – no surprise there. So we decided to take a more in-depth look at why these games draw such interest and provide the level of entertainment that is reported by those who play. Among the results, nearly half of slot players say the games are their favorite because they are less intimidating than some other gambling options.
Today there are nearly 833,000 gaming machines across the country, with the most (191,110) in Nevada. All of the commercial casino states now receive at least 65 percent of their gaming revenues from slot machines, with three states – Colorado, South Dakota and Iowa – collecting more than 90 percent of their revenues from gaming machines.
Despite various predications made by some of our opponents, commercial gaming has not fallen out of favor because of the difficulties presented by the down economy. In keeping with previous results of the survey on the acceptability of casino gaming, 81 percent say it is acceptable for themselves or others.
This and many other findings in the 2010 edition of the State of the States should provide confidence that with a turnaround in the national economy will come a positive change in the economics of the commercial casino industry. As this year’s survey shows, our base is solid – both in the numbers who continue to enjoy the entertainment we offer and those who support our industry – and it will provide a strong foundation for future growth and success.