“You like me, you really like me, you really, really like me,” reflected how a little-appreciated actress of a few decades ago felt about winning an Oscar.
Well, the votes have been tabulated, and the gaming industry can say with authority that elected officials and civic leaders in gaming communities “like us, they really like us, they really, really like us.”
As part of the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) annual State of the States survey, we asked elected officials and civic leaders in the communities where commercial casinos operate a series of questions about the impact gaming has had on their communities. The numbers are a stunning affirmation – by the most active and engaged people in the community – of our industry’s value. For example,
- 79 percent said casinos have had a positive impact on the community,
- 82 percent classified casinos as good corporate citizens, and
- 89 percent said casinos had met or exceed their expectations.
And, in perhaps the most telling response, while only 58 percent of the mayors, county executives, police chiefs, city managers and other local leaders polled in this survey had a favorable opinion of gaming before it was first introduced, after having seen the impact on their communities, 75 percent would now vote to allow casinos, and only 19 percent would vote against allowing them. (The remaining 6 percent had no comment or were undecided.)
Although this was the first time we have polled opinion leaders for this survey, these numbers are not surprising for those of us who have been involved with gaming for any length of time. Since taking my position when we founded the AGA, I have consistently encouraged lawmakers, regulators and others involved in assessing the gaming industry to go to the source. This survey confirms what I knew they would hear from the men and women who have day-to-day experience with the industry.
While the opinion-leader findings are intriguing, they are just a small part of the 2005 edition of AGA’s annual publication, State of The States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment, which was released at the Southern Gaming Summit in early May.
This survey represents the most comprehensive look at the commercial casino industry we have ever presented, and it includes exciting new information on the most dynamic phenomenon in gaming – poker.
The data on the commercial casino industry writes the final chapter on the industry’s recovery from September 11. Back in 2000, industry revenue increased by more than 10.5 percent and was on track to match that figure in 2001. Then the terrorist attacks occurred, and not surprisingly, that growth slowed considerably. 2002 and 2003 saw additional growth, but it was still far slower than we had been experiencing. The 2004 numbers, although still not what they were pre-2001, represent the greatest percentage increase since that time.
In 2004, the 445 commercial casinos in 11 states generated nearly $29 billion in gross gaming revenue, surpassing 2003 gross gaming revenues by more than 7 percent, easily the largest increase since September 11. The industry also continued to be a major source of employment and wages in the states where we operate. Additionally, the industry continued to be a significant source of revenue for state and local economies, distributing more than $4.7 billion in direct gaming taxes in 2004, a 9.6 percent increase over the previous year.
One survey finding to keep an eye on is a small shift in the casino visits to various regions of the country. For the first time in three years, according to information provided to the survey by Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., visits to casinos in the West fell. In 2004, visits to casinos in the West represented 35 percent of the total as compared with 38 percent in 2003. Comparatively, the percentage of visitors to other regions increased. The North Central region had 25 percent of casino visits, the South 21 percent and the Northeast 19 percent.
Then there are the numbers on poker. It seems these days it is hardly possible to have a discussion about gaming without someone bringing up how mesmerizing poker on television has become. The growth of poker has been nothing short of phenomenal.
For example, nearly one in every five adults played poker at least once in 2004. That represents a 50 percent increase over the number who played in 2003, and every sign indicates the trend is still headed upward. The reasons for the growing interest in poker are many, but 57 percent of those surveyed say they play as an entertaining way to spend time with friends and family. Another 21 percent say they enjoy the challenge to their skills and strategic abilities. Only 11 percent say they play to win money.
The 57 percent who find poker an entertaining way to spend time with family and friends represent what casino gaming has become in general. Today, with an increasingly diverse array of entertainment offerings, casinos are attracting visitors looking to do more than gamble. In fact, 55 percent of those responding to our survey say they come to casinos for the food, shows and entertainment. Only 20 percent say they come for the gambling. To put a capper on the results, when asked to choose the most fun city in America, the city cited most often was – you guessed it – Las Vegas.
So, the 2005 survey makes it clear. Not only do the leaders in gaming communities really like us, but our patrons really, really like the entire gaming experience and consider it a very important entertainment and leisure time option. From where I sit, you can’t ask for a better state of affairs than that.