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Chris Jones

March Gaming Win Reaches $930 Million

12 May 2004

NEVADA -- The state's monthly gaming win reached $930.3 million in March, shattering a record set more than three years ago, the Gaming Control Board reported Tuesday.

"It was an amazing month," Frank Streshley, senior research specialist for the control board, said of the 11.5 percent increase over the March 2003 win. "What makes it so impressive is this was not done through a new megaresort opening or anything like that, and we had a couple of properties closed during the month in (downtown Las Vegas') Horseshoe and Castaways."

March's win easily eclipsed the state's previous best monthly total of $899.8 million reported in January 2001, a period that benefited from a nearly $11 million sports book win associated with that year's Super Bowl as well as ongoing visitor interest in several new Las Vegas resorts that opened during 2000.

The gaming industry continues to enjoy the resurgent U.S. and global travel markets, Streshley said. Casino activity was largely flat through the fall months, but the new year brought a collective hot streak to Nevada's 349 casinos, including a best-ever February win total of $876 million and January's strong $882 million performance.

"For the quarter, the state is up 10.4 percent," Streshley said of the state's nearly $2.7 billion win total from Jan. 1 through March 31. Last year, state casinos won $2.43 billion during the comparable period.

With leisure and convention travel indicators holding steady, Streshley said state regulators expect the surge will continue in the short term.

That's good news for the state's economy, which relies heavily on percentage fees collected from casino operators. The state last month collected $81.6 million based upon the March casino win, up 38.3 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

Through the first 10 months of the fiscal year, the state had collected $566.9 million, up 20.6 percent from the prior year's 10-month total. Compared with the May 2003 Economic Forum projections, statewide percentage fee collections are $30.8 million, or 5.8 percent better than initial estimates.

"With two months left in the (fiscal) year, we'll end up on the positive side," Streshley said of Nevada's fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Thomas Cargill, professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Tuesday he's not surprised statewide gaming figures have exceeded estimates and hopes any leftover cash will be used to support other state programs.

"From a politician's perspective given all of the controversy around the budget and raising taxes ... it's more likely than not that the forecast was biased on the low side," Cargill said. He added the better-than-expected gaming win "means some of the pressure is taken off the state, that salary increases that were denied or postponed may come back for state workers."

"The budget was built on the projections, so that does mean extra money."

In a statement, Gov. Kenny Guinn said he was pleased with the March win total and expressed optimism for the rest of this year.

"The last two months of collections have put forecasted gaming revenues in a positive position to finish out the fiscal year," Guinn said. "Clearly the state is benefiting from the resurgence and overall strength of Las Vegas, but just as encouraging, we are now seeing signs of recovery in other markets."

Eric Hausler, a New York-based gaming analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group, said Tuesday there are several reasons Nevada, especially Las Vegas, has fared so well this year. They include strong demand for leisure and convention travel; rebounding job prospects associated with an improved U.S. economy; and a weakened dollar that makes the United States a more enticing destination for many foreign travelers.

Hausler said the March gaming win was particularly impressive considering the month featured fewer weekend days than a year ago. And while he doesn't expect the state will continue to post double-digit monthly percentage gains through the end of 2004, Hausler said there is again room for optimism associated with Nevada casinos.

"You're coming up against easier comparisons because business was down thanks to last year's (March 19) start of the war in Iraq," Hausler said. "Nonetheless, those statewide numbers are very strong and ... I still think Vegas has plenty of juice left."

Clark County reported a March win of $776.3 million, up 13.3 percent from a year ago. That total was bolstered by a strong performance by Strip resorts, which won $465.4 million in March, up 17.6 percent.

Downtown Las Vegas' March total was $56.7 million, down nearly 11 percent, while areas such as Mesquite and Laughlin posted growth of 8 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.

Washoe County's win was up 0.44 percent to $85.7 million.