Economy deals bad hand to Indiana casinos

Bloomington, Indiana — Indiana’s typically resilient gambling industry is taking a beating from the nation’s economic downturn.

The gambling industry has been considered somewhat recession-proof, but the state’s wagering tax and admission tax revenues declined in fiscal year 2008 compared with the previous year, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Mike Smith, president of the Casino Association of Indiana, said economic problems are difficult to fight, but he hopes the worst is already behind the gambling industry.
„If you look at the numbers (of the casinos in Indiana), we’ve managed to stabilize,“ he said.

At French Lick Casino, the amount made by the casino this year through September is down USD 2.7 million from what the casino brought in during the same time in 2007. On slots and table games, French Lick has made USD 76.2 million this year compared with last year’s USD 78.9 million by this time.

Economist Michael Hicks, executive director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, said he doubts the recent economic downturn will last long enough to put any of Indiana’s casinos out of business.

„I don’t expect any of them are going to close,“ Hicks said. „What they are more likely to do is cut back on staff and hours of operation.“

Indiana now has 13 gambling sites, including slot machines at the state’s two pari-mutuel horse racing tracks — Hoosier Park in Anderson and at Indiana Downs Shelbyville. That competition may make it more difficult for casinos to target customers.

„The problem today is there is no shortage of gambling,“ Hicks said.

Gamblers may also be less likely to risk large amounts of money on slot machines or table games if they have lost a lot of money in the stock market or in retirement funds, he said.

„A big loss in wealth may be something that the gaming industry is finding tougher to deal with,“ Hicks said.

Casinos are working to attract visitors with more than just gambling. The French Lick Resort Casino, for example, offers golf courses and spa services, in addition to gas rebates for people spending several nights there.

„One of the key things is we develop more and more into a total entertainment package (at the casinos) throughout the state,“ Smith said. „And I think French Lick is a good example of that, with things like the golf courses.“