Gambling in U.S. sets new record

Dec 12, 2006 6:27 AM

Americans gambled — and lost — more money last year than ever before.

In 2005, wagering in the U.S. topped $83.6 billion dollars, a 6.1 percent over 2004, according to an annual report by Christiansen Capital Advisors.

"That was a record, and it is an awful amount of money," Eugene M. Christiansen wrote in the 24th annual "Gross Annual Wager," published in Casino Journal.

Christiansen said that if lumped together, legalized gambling revenues would rank as the nation’s 11th-richest company — up from 12th in 2004, but down from 10th in 2002.

Some sectors of the nation’s gambling economy are doing better than others, however, and some are troubled.

Commercial and tribal casino revenues rose a combined 6.8 percent last year to $53.5 billion, almost 64 percent of the nation’s total gambling dollars. While commercial gambling was up a modest 4 percent, the still-expanding tribal casino industry grew 11.4 percent to $21.6 billion.

Lottery revenues increased 5.79 percent to $22.8 billion. While traditional lottery games such as scratch-off tickets grew 4.8 percent, revenues from video lottery terminals grew 11.8 percent.

Legal bookmaking, card rooms and charitable bingo revenues grew a combined 1.9 percent to $1.5 billion. Books and card rooms, pushed by the growing popularity of live poker, each enjoyed double-digit growth. Bingo revenues declined 3.1 percent, to $825 million.

Internet gambling emerged as the industry’s top performer with 42.2 percent growth, with $5.9 billion taken from American cyber-gamblers last year.

Christiansen said the long-term effects of this year’s U.S. crackdown on Internet gambling are not clear. The only sure thing, he said, is new federal legislation barring cash and credit transactions with online casinos will prevent any U.S. companies from sharing in the global cyber-gambling bonanza.

On the downside, pari-mutuel wagering on horses, dogs and jai alai remained in a decade-long tailspin with "declines across the board," Christiansen said. The sector fell 1.3 percent to $3.6 billion in annual revenues.

The modest decline represented an improvement over 2004, when revenues fell 2.9 percent.

"Something is seriously wrong," Christiansen said. He urged the industry to reinvent itself with new business models to better compete in a rapidly changing global gambling marketplace.

"Consumers want more casinos and more gambling online, but their appetite for other kinds of gambling, notably pari-mutuels and traditional lotteries, is satisfied," Christiansen said in a look at market supply and demand pressures.