Revenues set mark

December 18, 2007 6:05 AM
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A time-tested adage of the gambling industry is people will continue to gamble — perhaps even more so — when times are tough. So, if Nevada is indeed mired in an economic crisis, the tenet held true as the state’s casino industry posted a record monthly win of $1.16 billion in October.

The state’s Gaming Control Board last week reported that the win, driven by losses by high-stakes baccarat players on the Las Vegas Strip, gave casinos a 9.6 percent statewide gain over the same month a year earlier.

The $1.16 billion win eclipses the previous month-over-month record of $1.15 billion set in July. The money is the amount left in casino vaults after gamblers wagered $13.4 billion during October, including $11.59 billion in slot machines and the balance on table games.

"These numbers are well above expectations for the month," Control Board analyst Frank Streshley said. "Normally we see a lull, but strong baccarat play really helped."

Casino action in Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas and the surrounding area, accounted for $1 billion of the total, and marked the first time the southern Nevada resorts hit that level. It’s an amount certain to be topped as numerous casino projects now underway open up in coming months and years.

Casinos in downtown Las Vegas held their own with a total gaming win of $60.1 million, a 0.7 percent increase over a year ago.

But the southern Nevada gains, including a nearly 20 percent jump in the win to $637 million for Las Vegas Strip properties, didn’t extend to the Reno-Tahoe area in northern Nevada. Casinos in Reno were down 8.7 percent and casinos in Stateline, on Lake Tahoe’s south shore, were down 6.4 percent in October.

As noted, October’s win was buoyed by heavy baccarat action, which increased a whopping 338 percent to $108.2 million.

Casinos’ slot action wasn’t nearly as strong as table game play, which benefited from gambling by international bettors during "Golden Week," the Asian labor holiday which fell in October this year.

In October, slots had a gain of less than 5 percent while table games were up more than 21 percent compared with the same month last year.

Slots accounted for about $779 million of the $1.16 billion total win in October. That included $328.6 million won by multi-denomination slots, up 8.5 percent.

A large percentage of the slot win, however, can be attributed to "tighter" machines, rather than an overall increase in play by customers. The casinos’ "hold" on slot machines increased by 2 percent over the past 12 months, mostly due to the proliferation of penny slots.

Penny machines, which raked in $153.9 million or 19.7 percent of the total slot win, held about 10.8 percent. The overall hold on all slots was only 6.7 percent in October.

Thus, a closer look at slot play reveals the amount wagered by slot players in October was $11.59 billion, only 0.9 percent more than players bet in October 2006.

Other segments of the casino didn’t fare as well.

Sports books won $14.4 million in October, down 57 percent, as football bettors benefited from a surge in favorites covering the point spread.

The $3.2 million won by sports books on football action was nearly 84 percent less than a year ago, and the 1.3 percent held on football bets was well-below the 16 percent books held in September.

The biggest win for sports books came from their parlay card action, which increased 5.9 percent to $6.9 million, which included a solid hold of 46.2 percent.

The state’s race books raked in $8.3 million, up 10.5 percent, due to the heavy Breeder’s Cup action.

Finally, Nevada’s poker games won $12.4 million, down 0.2 percent from a year ago. October was the fifth straight month of declining poker revenues, perhaps signaling the poker boom in the state has leveled off.

The only noticeable fallout could be the recent closing of the poker room at the Las Vegas Hilton, though most card rooms in Las Vegas haven’t announced any significant cutbacks.