HARTFORD, Conn. — Even as the economy emerged from the deepest recession in decades, Indian casinos increased revenue, according to a recent report.
At commercial casinos, revenue fell slightly in 2011, but tribal-run operations generated 3 percent more in sales, to $27.4 billion, over the previous year, Casino City’s North American Gaming Almanac found.
“Tribal casinos are doing a very good job,” said Vin Narayanan, the publication’s editor-in-chief. “They’re not giant slot parlors. They’re as good as any casinos you’d find anywhere in the world.”
Commercial casinos still generated more revenue in 2011 than tribal operations, pulling in $37.6 billion. But sales were essentially flat over 2010, with revenue down a scant $28 million, a fraction of 1 percent. Since 2008, the first year of the recession, revenue at commercial casinos was down 6 percent.
In Nevada, for example, where expansion “practically stopped” in Las Vegas as the recession took hold, Narayanan said, gambling revenue fell from $12.8 billion in 2007 to 9.8 billion in 2011, or 23 percent.
In contrast, sales at Indian casinos were up $829 million since 2008, a 3 percent increase, according to Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report. They posted a 3 percent increase over 2010.
The recession began in December 2007 and the recovery, among the weakest ever following a downturn, began in June 2009.
Alan Meister, author of the Indian Gaming Industry Report, said revenue posted by tribal-run casinos has “slowly been closing in” on sales at commercial casinos, slowed by the recession.
He credited tribal casinos’ success to factors such as an absence in the same markets of other types of gambling and mature markets that have established a following among bettors. In addition, proximity to other markets, such as Alabama and other Gulf Coast states with casinos and Oklahoma, which is next door to markets in Texas, also help tribal casinos, he said.
Revenue at Oklahoma’s Indian casinos jumped 8 percent from 2010 to 2011, to $3.5 billion.
In contrast, revenue has fallen steadily at Connecticut’s two Indian-run casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, because of the weak recovery and competition in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the Northeast.
“It’s got nothing to do with tribal gaming trends overall,” Narayanan said.
He said new commercial casinos drove growth, particularly in Maryland. Revenue at Maryland’s casinos jumped 17 percent between 2010 and 2011, to $891.6 million, second only to Alabama among the states.
Voters there approved a constitutional in November 2008 allowing 15,000 slot machines at five sites in casinos and racetracks. The first race track casino, or racino, opened in January 2011. Live table games were legalized in 2012.
Narayanan said that despite a rising number of casinos — Massachusetts is going through a lengthy ballot and review process allowing up to three regional casinos and one slots parlor — the industry is “not at the point of saturation.”
Total revenue increases as new casinos enter the market, he said.
Despite the slight decline in revenue among commercial casinos, Narayanan said he’s impressed the industry did well during the economic meltdown.
“In the middle of a recession, the fact it held as steady as they did is really remarkable,” he said.
“The gaming industry pretty much held their own. Not too many places can say that.”