Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr.
Every spring, the American Gaming Association (AGA) reviews the state of the commercial casino industry, compiling economic statistics and polling data to develop our annual publication, State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment. Since its introduction in 1999, State of the States has given us an in-depth look at the economic contributions of our industry, as well as insight into how the American public thinks about gaming.
The 2004 State of the States survey, released this month, offers the portrait of an industry that has evolved into one of the most resilient business sectors in the country. It also indicates that the public remains highly supportive of the commercial casino industry as well as knowledgeable about our contributions to the communities in which we operate.
As in past years, the U.S. commercial casino industry exhibited slow but steady growth in 2003. According to the report, the 443 commercial casinos nationwide generated $27 billion in gross gaming revenue in 2003, an increase of nearly 2 percent compared to 2002. Industry employment grew slightly in 2003, as commercial casinos employed approximately 350,000 workers nationwide. The report also documents the continuing growth of racetrack casinos. Located in six states across the country last year, “racinos” generated $2.2 billion in revenue, a $200 million increase since 2002.
State of the States statistics also show the overall commercial casino industry continued to pay large sums to state and local governments through direct gaming taxes in 2003. Payments last year totaled $4.4 billion, a $400 million increase compared to 2002.
Beyond economic data, this year’s State of the States survey includes public opinion polling results on the acceptability of casino gaming. Results from the 2004 poll conducted for the AGA by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. and The Luntz Research Companies indicate the acceptability of casino gambling remains high. According to the report, 81 percent of Americans in 2004 view casino gambling as an acceptable activity for themselves or others.
The Hart/Luntz poll data also indicate two-thirds of Americans agree casinos bring widespread economic benefits to other businesses and industries within the region. An overwhelming 87 percent said gambling is a matter of personal choice, and that people should be able to go into a casino, have their own budget and spend their disposable income the way they see fit.
Perhaps most interesting, this year’s polling data provides new insight into how the American public views the industry’s efforts on responsible gaming. According to the poll, 62 percent of Americans think the casino industry is doing a good job of eliminating the illegal or underage use of our product.
The results are even more striking among people who know casinos best. Forty percent of Americans who have visited a casino three or more times in the past year believe the industry is doing a “very good” job in eliminating the illegal or underage use of our product, and 63 percent of residents who live in one of the 11 commercial casino states said the casino industry is doing a good job.
According to the survey, the introduction late last year of the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming also influenced Americans’ support for our industry. Polling data indicate more than 70 percent of the American public has a more favorable opinion of the industry after learning we had adopted such an initiative.
What this tells us is that while a majority of Americans still hold the individual responsible for addressing disordered gambling, they recognize and support industry efforts on the issue.
As the AGA develops new programs and initiatives to move the industry forward, we will continue to utilize tools such as State of the States to guide us in our efforts. The data outlined here helps us see where we’ve been — identifying areas where we have had success as well as where there is room for improvement. It’s a blueprint for our industry’s future, which, through the lens of our past, looks brighter than ever.