So, are we back?
Nevada's casino industry posted its second straight annual gaming revenue increase in 2011. Analysts were quick to point out another positive: The results were not totally reliant on high-end baccarat play, the game that has bolstered the industry's overall performance during the recession.
Statewide, casinos collected $10.7 billion in gaming revenues in 2011, a 2.8 percent increase over 2010 and the highest annual jump in four years.
On the Strip, gaming revenues increased 5.1 percent over 2010 with casinos collecting $6.068 billion -- crossing the $6 billion threshold for the first time since 2008.
When baccarat figures are subtracted from the statewide total, Nevada casinos still would have reported a 2.4 percent gaming revenue increase. That hasn't occurred since 2007.
"The recovery is much broader, which is what we have been waiting to see happen," said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board. The agency released the year-end and December gaming revenue figures Thursday.
"It's not a double-digit recovery, but it's steady," Lawton said.
In Clark County, six of the seven reporting areas showed annual gaming revenue increases. Only Laughlin was down for 2011.
SLOT PLAY SIGNALS UPTURN
The telling revenue reporting metric, Lawton said, came from slot machines, which signal increased play by the mass- market customers.
During 2011, Nevada casinos saw revenues increase 1.5 percent from slot machine wagering while revenues from table games increased 5.2 percent. In 2010, slot machine revenues were down 2.7 percent.
December's gaming revenues showed a better than 2 percent increase statewide and giving Nevada casinos three straight monthly increases to end 2011. On the Strip, gaming revenues grew 3.6 percent in the last month of the year.
So, are we back?
Lawton said the second half of 2011 was better than the first six months for most of the reporting markets, including Las Vegas locals, based on slot machine wagering figures.
Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said slot numbers are a good indication that customer spending on nongaming items and hotel rooms is growing. Other analysts agreed the state and the Strip are moving in the right direction.
"Looking ahead, we believe our gradual recovery thesis for the Las Vegas Strip remains intact, with solid group and convention booking trends continuing into 2012, combined with strengthening results in the free and independent travel and leisure segment," JP Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff told investors.
Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski agreed.
'We get the sense that Las Vegas continues along its path to recovery, as increased visitation, higher average daily room rates and improved non-gaming results serve to complement slightly stronger gaming results," Wieczynski said.
BACCARAT PLAYS SLIGHTLY SMALLER ROLE
Baccarat was still a factor in 2011, but not as much as it was in 2010.
The game's revenues grew 6.2 percent last year, which paled in comparison to the 21.4 percent increase the game experienced in 2010. Baccarat wagering was actually off statewide in December, with revenues declining 4.5 percent.
"These trends continue to reflect the high volatility of this segment," Susquehanna International gaming analyst Rachael Rothman told investors. "While the swings have an impact on quarterly estimates, they do not reflect broader fundamentals on the Strip."
Clark County as a whole saw gaming revenues increase 3.5 percent in 2011, including increases of 2.9 percent along the Boulder Strip and 1.2 percent for the area referred to a balance of Clark County.
Downtown Las Vegas casinos saw gaming revenues increase just under 1 percent in 2011, the market's first positive year since 2007. However, the figure could have been higher except that the downtown market saw a gaming revenue drop of 10.7 percent in December.
In January, Nevada collected $31.8 million in gaming taxes based on December's gaming revenues, an increase of almost 6 percent compared with a year ago. For the first seven months of the fiscal year, gaming tax collections are up less than 1 percent.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.