Indian casinos rake in USD 23 billion

Sacramento – Gambling revenue at American Indian casinos nationwide grew to nearly USD 23 billion last year, climbing at a rate more than three times faster than traditional gambling operations.

California tribes accounted for nearly one-third of the money, according to a comprehensive report on Indian gambling to be released today.

Nationwide, Indian gambling revenue grew by 15.6 percent in 2005, even though no major casinos opened last year, according to the Indian Gaming Industry Report, which has been compiled the past five years by Southern California economist Alan Meister. It was the 10th consecutive year in which revenues increased by about 15 percent.

The growth can be attributed to expanded offerings at existing casinos and stepped-up marketing by tribes that are adding Las Vegas-style amenities to lure more visitors.

The report shows tribal casinos closing in on the amount of profits taken in by non-Indian casinos, which had USD 29.6 billion in revenue in 2005, a 4.6 percent rise from the previous year.

California’s tribes saw revenue climb by 24 percent, to USD 7.2 billion, in a state where 55 tribes operate 57 casinos. That rate of growth isn’t likely to slow any time soon, said Meister, an economist with the Analysis Group in Los Angeles.

The report is one of the most comprehensive for the industry. Meister uses data from government agencies, Indian tribes and casinos, gambling associations and other studies, as well as some proprietary financial data that tribes are not required to publicly report.

California tribes, especially those in Southern California, have successfully added Vegas-style attractions such as five-star hotels, spas and golfing to their casinos to lure guests, Meister said. Their next challenge will be persuading California gamblers to give up trips to Las Vegas altogether in favor of venues closer to home.

„If there’s people that are still traveling to Nevada, those are potential customers,“ he said.

He noted there are proposals for at least 47 new Indian casinos in California, including some in potentially lucrative markets such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County. Regulatory changes being contemplated in Washington, D.C., could stall construction of new casinos, but it’s not clear yet what the reforms will be.

Conor Lee, an organizer with Communities United Against Urban Casinos, which is lobbying against three proposed casinos in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, said smaller tribes are increasingly trying to tap urban markets. Casinos, he said, drain money from the local community rather than boosting the economy.

„They’ve been really pushing to put the casinos near major urban areas and near major arterials, because that’s where the money is,“ he said. „People end up spending their money on a casino, and they don’t end up spending it on other kinds of entertainment.“

Meister’s study said revenue from nongambling activities at tribal casinos also is on the rise and accounts for about one-tenth of tribes‘ overall revenues – USD 2.3 billion in 2005.

Although California still accounts for the largest share of Indian gambling revenue, Nebraska led all states in growth last year, at 228 percent, after adding a third casino and other offerings at existing facilities.