Last summer, I used the inaugural issue of Global Gaming Business as a forum for detailing the state of the U.S. commercial casino industry in the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11. At that time, I reported our industry had proven to be resilient in the face of adversity, exhibiting growth despite tremendous economic hardship and individual sacrifice.
One year later, I am happy to repeat myself. According to our annual survey of the state of the commercial casino industry in 2002, that resiliency shows no signs of fading. Our nation is still dealing with the aftershocks of Sept. 11, and an economic recession is a daily reality. Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in years, and the combination of numerous financial scandals and falling financial markets have created a growing uncertainty about the U.S. economy. Despite these challenges, however, our industry continues to flourish.
The level of acceptability of casino gaming also continues to grow, as more Americans see gaming as a mainstream entertainment activity and valuable contributor to the U.S. economy. Results of an annual national public opinion survey, conducted by noted pollsters Peter Hart and Frank Luntz, reveal that acceptability of casino gaming is at its highest level in years.
According to the survey, 85 percent of Americans view casino gaming as an acceptable activity for themselves or others, an increase from 79 percent in the previous year. The increased acceptance levels could be seen across all age groups, among men and women, at all income levels, in every region of the United States and at all levels of religious participation.
A breakdown of support by age reveals even stronger acceptance of casinos among adults ages 21 to 39. An overwhelming 91 percent of these Americans said casino gaming is acceptable for themselves or others, compared with 81 percent of Americans over age 50.
These results serve to quantify our long-held assumption that the more familiar people are with the casino industry, the more likely they are to embrace and support it. That adults aged 21 to 39 are most accepting validates their belief that not only are casinos a fun place to “get away,” but also a source of jobs and economic growth in many communities.
The results also reveal Americans have not been swayed by the anti-gaming rhetoric used to attack our industry. These baseless arguments have been unsuccessful at turning the public against the industry. On top of the extremely favorable public approval numbers, more than half of Americans—54 percent—would favor the introduction of casino gaming into their area because of its economic benefits. And nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that casinos bring widespread economic benefits to other industries and businesses within the region.
State of the States also features compelling statistics on the economic resiliency of the commercial casino industry in the midst of a recession. According to the survey, the 432 commercial casinos in 11 states had combined gross gaming revenues of $26.5 billion in 2002, a 3 percent increase over 2001 levels.
More than 51 million people—roughly one-quarter of the U.S. population—visited a commercial casino in 2002, and the industry also continued to be a major source of employment across the country. It provided more than 350,000 jobs with wages of nearly $11 billion in 2002.
The survey also shows commercial casinos paid $4 billion in direct gaming taxes last year. This represents a dramatic increase from 2001 levels, primarily due to several states’ decisions to raise direct gaming taxes on the industry last year. Every state exhibited an increase in tax revenue, ranging from a 1 percent increase in Nevada to a 20 percent increase in Illinois.
The continued diversification of gaming in the United States was also a focus of this year’s survey, exemplified by the growing success of racetrack casinos, or racinos. Located in six states across the country, this industry sector generated $2 billion in total revenue in 2002 and provided more than 11,000 jobs. Racinos also generated $718 million for state and local governments, an increase of approximately $140 million over 2001 levels.
The sustained growth and continued diversification of commercial casinos indicates we have matured as an industry. The results of this survey portend that we will not only survive the tough economic times, but thrive alongside state and local economies as long as they continue to apply rational tax policies. Combined with our consistently high levels of public support, this bodes well for the future of gaming.