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End-of-year stats highlight Las Vegas gaming, tourism performance

It’s always interesting to poke through the end-of-year statistics to find informational nuggets about gaming and tourism in Nevada and Las Vegas.

The state Gaming Control Board and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority are data-driven and provide monthly figures on gaming win, visitation, convention traffic, occupancy rates and other tourism indicators that sometimes are used to justify a past action or to predict the future.

The statistics also can be used to dispel common misperceptions about the gaming industry or provoke change in public policy.

Here are some of the nuggets that jumped out of last week’s 2018 Gaming Control Board analysis and LVCVA visitor volume report:

Is the spread of casino gambling across the United States killing Las Vegas? No, the numbers say.

With the exception of a few year-over-year blips, state gaming win has steadily climbed.

Last year’s statewide win totaled $11.9 billion, the third-highest total on record — nearly $1 billion a month.

Reaching $1 billion per month has always been a significant benchmark. In 2018, it was hit five out of 12 months, and December’s figure was off by just $335,000.

Visitation was down 0.2 percent to 42.1 million visitors — essentially flat against the second-best year on record.

While most analysts predicted that the proliferation of sports wagering nationwide after the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act wouldn’t put a big hurt on Nevada sportsbooks, there were still some skeptics. But the Control Board reported that a record $5.01 billion was bet on sports in Nevada, and the casinos collected $301 million on those bets, also a record.

It helped that the books had the highest win percentage in 11 years, 6.01 percent, and win was up 21 percent from the previous year.

Industry leaders say the technological ease of betting on sports with apps is what produced those records, which make many believe New York will revisit a recent decision to put a mobile wagering proposal on hold.

By market, $10.3 billion of the $11.9 billion won by casinos statewide occurred in Clark County. That, of course, means the state would collect a proportional cut in tax revenue. That means 86 percent of taxable win occurred in Clark County.

Robert Lang, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute at UNLV, told the audience at Preview 2019 last month that it’s time for the state to spend some money on transportation infrastructure in the south.

The fact that Southern Nevada casinos fill tax coffers the most is ample justification to spend the money here, Lang said, and not in all corners of the state.

It’s no surprise that most gaming win comes via slot machines and not table games. That trend seems to be staying intact, with $7.71 billion of the $11.92 billion in gaming win — 64.7 percent — coming from slot machines.

In 2017, the figure was 64.2 percent. That shows there hasn’t been much movement on how people are gambling.

What denomination of slot machine is most popular? The highest number of units by denomination are the flexible multi-denom games, with 68,865 units in play statewide, according to the Control Board.The next most popular are the penny slots, with 55,238 units.

The slot win totals are fairly close, with multi-denom machines winning $3.24 billion and penny machines taking $3.33 billion. But the casino win percentage was significantly higher for pennies at 10 percent, while the multi-denom casino win was 5.26 percent.

The highest win percentage among slots: 13.12 percent on the state’s 385 Megabucks units. That means the best opportunities for players are the machines with the lowest win percentage: 4.86 percent on the state’s 185 $25 machines.

Among table games and other gambling, blackjack is still king, but the state’s 2,481 blackjack tables didn’t win as much in 2018 as they did the previous year. Casinos won $1.15 billion, 5 percent less than in 2017. Overall, blackjack win percentage was 13.7 percent.

The state’s 364 baccarat tables won $1.21 billion, with a 12.35 win percentage, and the total win was 4.7 percent ahead of last year.

For the player, the best nonslot game in the house is sports bets, based on the house’s 6.01 winning percentage.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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