Survey says: Casino gaming on a roll!

May 10, 2005 4:47 AM

The state of the commercial casino industry is robust and expanding, with no perceivable slowdown in sight.

That’s the message from Frank J. Fahrenkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, which last week released its 2005 State of the States Survey of Casino Entertainment.

Fahrenkopf said that the nation’s 445 commercial casinos last year generated more than $29 billion in revenue, surpassing 2003 by 7 percent.

"It was the largest increase since 2000," Fahrenkopf said. "The increase was impressive considering the proliferation of tribal casinos and online gaming."

Two segments of the commercial casino industry experienced rapid growth in 2004. Racetrack casinos or "racinos" generated about $2.9 billion in revenue, a 30 percent increase over 2003.

And consumer spending on poker in Nevada and New Jersey — the only states that track poker revenue — reached $151.7 million in 2004, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.

"Racinos are one of fastest expanding venues," Fahrenkopf said, citing planned racetrack casinos in Pennsylvania and new racinos in West Virginia, Deleware, New York and Maryland. "There’s a high concentration in the middle Eastern states,”¦ we will see whether the market is going support all of them."

Even though commercial casinos continue to expand, the public’s taste for gaming entertainment remains strong.

According to the survey, more adults went to casinos last year (54.1 million) than in 2003 (53.4 million), and they made more casino trips overall, 319 million trips versus 310 million.

In the fast-growing poker sector, nearly one in five American adults (18 percent) played in an organized poker game, a 50 percent increase over the number who played during the previous year.

With increased participation it should be no surprise that casino gaming enjoys a high approval rating with patrons. According to the AGA survey, 81 percent of Americans believe commercial gaming is an acceptable form of entertainment. Only 15 percent said it was unacceptable.

That acceptance has carried over to community leaders in gaming jurisdictions. In a new category created for this year’s AGA survey, 82 percent of community and civic leaders — mayors, elected officials, city managers, police chiefs, etc. — hailed casinos as "responsible corporate citizens," and more than 79 percent said casinos have made a positive impact in the community.

"We felt it was important to know what these leaders had to say," Fahrenkopf said. "This is where the ”˜rubber meets the road’ so their evaluation is important."

In addition to a general acceptance and approval of gaming, the community leaders rated gaming highly in specific areas:

”¡ 67 percent said casinos generated a net increase in tax revenue for the area.

”¡ 73 percent said casino taxes or development agreements have fueled non-gaming community projects.

”¡ 63 percent said casinos have helped other businesses in the community.

”¡ 79 percent said casinos have made an overall positive impact in the community.

”¡ 75 percent said they would vote again to allow casinos into the community.

Fahrenkopf said that, despite its high level of popularity, casino gaming will always have its detractors.

"There will always be 10 to 15 percent of the population who are morally opposed to gaming," Fahrenkopf said. "Tied with them are misconceptions, myths and superstitions about the industry — it’s a hard core group who needs convincing."