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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Statewide gambling win slips 1.52 percent in March

12 May 2008

NEVADA -- Make it 3-for-3.

Statewide gaming revenues fell for the third straight month in 2008 with casinos winning 1.52 percent less from gamblers during March than they did a year ago. Strip casinos took a nearly 5 percent hit compared with their results in March 2007. The numbers also marked the fourth month out of the past five that gaming revenues have declined.

"Is this a trend? I'd have to say so," said Frank Streshley, senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board. The state agency released March's results Friday.

Streshley said slot machine wagering declined for the fifth straight month statewide, a sign that consumers are not spending as much on gambling as they have in the past.

"It goes back to the state of the economy," Streshley said.

However, Wall Street didn't blink; analysts had prepared for the worst. The down month mirrored the first-quarter earnings announcements by the major casino operators. Harrah's Entertainment, Boyd Gaming Corp. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. reported losses during the three-month period while Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Mirage suffered sharp earnings declines.

Casinos won $1.038 billion from gamblers in March, compared with $1.054 billion a year ago, a month that had one additional weekend day and was not impacted by Easter, which is traditionally not an active gambling holiday. On the Strip, casinos reported gaming revenues of $517.5 million, a 4.8 percent drop compared with $543.7 million a year ago.

For the first three months of 2008, casinos statewide won $3.1 billion, a 3.4 percent decline from the first three months of 2007. On the Strip, the total gaming revenues for the first three months are $1.67 billion, a decline of 3.04 percent. The last time Nevada recorded a one-year decline in gaming win was 2002, when revenues fell 0.3 percent. In 2001, gaming revenues declined 1.3 percent.

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Bill Lerner said the March numbers could have been much worse. Not having the extra weekend day made for a tough calendar comparison. Las Vegas was boosted by the ConExpo-Con/Agg convention, which drew more than 100,000 attendees early in the month.

"I'm actually encouraged by the numbers," Lerner said. "We thought the gaming revenues were going to be down even more."

Statewide, gamblers wagered $11.5 billion on slot machines, a decrease of 8 percent from a year ago. On the Strip, slot machine wagering was off 7.4 percent.

Streshley said slot machine gambling is a barometer for Nevada consumer spending. It appears, he said, casino customers are holding on to their money a little tighter.

Table-game wagering also slid 3.3 percent statewide in March and 2 percent on the Strip. Gamblers were luckier at blackjack during the month, with the casinos' win from the game down almost 18 percent statewide. Baccarat win also declined in March, down almost 3 percent.

March was a mixed bag throughout Clark County. The locals market outside of Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder Strip, fell 4.8 percent. North Las Vegas casino revenues were up 27 percent, Mesquite's gaming win climbed more than 32 percent, and the Boulder Strip was up 11 percent.

Streshley said it appeared that in some reporting areas, the revenues from slot machine wagering in February was counted in March because the calendar changed on a weekend.

Streshley said he didn't have an explanation for downtown Las Vegas, which reported gaming revenues of $56.7 million, a nearly 2.5 percent increase compared with $55.3 million a year ago and its first revenue jump since December.

In Northern Nevada, Washoe County suffered its ninth straight monthly gaming revenue decline.