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Liz Benston

Slot players pinch pennies

12 September 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- While the major casinos are doing a bang up job attracting visitors to Las Vegas with big discounts and other perks, their slot business continues to suffer. And that's bad news for Nevada, where slots make up about two thirds of the state's gaming revenue.

Today's monthly report from the Gaming Control Board reveals that slot players wagered $1.1 billion less on slots in July than the same month a year ago. On the Strip, slot volume was down half a billion dollars.

Those pennies can really add up.

Slot volume fell 12 percent in July compared with a year ago, the worst drop in the past seven straight months that slot spending has been on the decline and the latest sign that these figures are worsening. By comparison, slot volume fell 10 percent in June.

These numbers may bottom out, especially with gas prices on the decline. In July, drivers were paying more than $4 per gallon.

The July figures weren't skewed, as some months have been, by a holdover in slot revenue generated in a previous month included in the following month's numbers.

While the slot numbers are worrisome for casinos, table game play, strangely enough, bucked the downward trend.

On the Strip, table game volume was up 5 percent. This held true for high end as well as typically lower end games: Baccarat play was up 15 percent and blackjack was up 7 percent. Yet Strip casinos won 21 percent less from table game players in July because players were especially lucky, winning a greater percentage of wagers than is typical.

Had those win percentages at the tables been more typical, the overall decline in revenue would have been much less, Wall Street analysts said.

It appears that casinos, which haven't been able to entirely remove risk from the gambling business, need all the luck they can muster.