Bad year for Nevada gambling

Worried land gambling industry operators are concerned that a pronounced and sustained downward trend in revenues at Nevada land casinos could continue into 2009 following a tough 2008 that saw revenues decline by 9.7 percent - with the fourth quarter plunging 18.9 percent.

Hotels Online published Nevada Gaming Control Board statistics to back up its claim that 2008 has been the worst on record for Nevada gambling businesses, with the following month-by-month table:

Nevada Gaming Revenues by the Month

2007 vs. 2008

January 2007: $1,117,140,888. January 2008: $1,064,089,670 - down 4.75 percent

February 2007: $1,056,372,522. February 2008: $1,014,823,745 - down 3.93 percent

March 2007: $1,054,779,360. March 2008: $1,038,751,381 - down 1.5 percent

April 2007: $1,053,249,753. April 2008: $1,000,112,698 - down 5.05 percent

May 2007: $1,143,445,674. May 2008: $ 969,943,776 - down 15.2 percent

June 2007: $ 959,985,424. June 2008: $949,316,713 - down 1.1 percent

July 2007: $1,145,965,863. July 2008: $997,344,346 - down 12.97 percent

August 2007: $1,016,480,268. August 2008: $934,120,078 - down 8.1 percent

September 2007: $1,058,687,112. September 2008: $1,001,072,500 - down 5.44 percent

October 2007: $1,165,187,189. October 2008: $904,960,377 - down 23.3 percent

November 2007: $982,108,428. November 2008: $836,787,265 - down 14.80 percent

December 2007: $1,095,421,697. December 2008: $887,997,753 - down 18.94 percent

12 months 2007: $12,848,824,178. 12 months 2008: $11,599.320,302 - down 9.7 percent

Casinos statewide won $11.6 billion from customers during the year, Hotels Online reports, a drop of 9.7 percent when compared with the $12.8 billion won from gamblers in 2007; making the decline the sharpest in state history, according to figures released Wednesday by the Gaming Control Board this week.

On the Strip, casinos won $6.1 billion in 2008, a decline of 10.6 percent compared with the $6.8 billion won in 2007.

The control board has been collecting and reporting monthly gaming revenue figures since 1984, but senior research analyst Frank Streshley said the statewide 2008 decline was only the third time in 53 years that annual gaming revenues fell.

In 2001, gaming revenues declined 1.3 percent compared with 2000, which had been the largest ever year-over-year drop. A year later, gaming revenues fell 0.3 percent.

The Strip's gaming win decline in 2008 was the largest since 2001, when casino revenues fell 2.1 percent.

"Obviously, the 2001 numbers were impacted by 9/11," Streshley said. "The economy has had a much more devastating impact than anything we've ever experienced."

Several analysts don't think Nevada and the Strip will fare any better during the first part of 2009.

"The challenging macroeconomic factors will continue to take their toll on the Las Vegas Strip due to the detrimental impact that the slowing national economy is having on consumer discretionary spending," Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett told investors Wednesday.

Jacob Oberman, an analyst for CB Richard Ellis's Global Gaming Group in Las Vegas, said the casino industry won't recover until home prices stabilise nationwide. Consumers want to feel comfortable in their personal lives before they get out and travel, he said.

"2009 will continue to be difficult, particularly until the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act begins to trickle through the economy," Oberman wrote in a report. "With home prices that will remain substantially weaker in 2009 than in 2008, especially during the first several months of the year, leisure demand and spending will be significantly weaker."

On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said visitation to Las Vegas fell 4.4 percent in 2008 and was off 11 percent in December, the fourth straight month of double-digit declines.

JP Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff said the Strip's gaming revenue and visitor volume declines came "despite significant hotel room discounting."

Greff said the gaming revenue results are actually worse than they appear "given the accounting method used for slot revenue recognition that counted slot win from Nov. 29 and Nov. 30 in the December results."

In December, gaming revenues statewide fell 18.9 percent, Nevada's 12th straight monthly decline and the 13th month out of the past 14 that gaming revenues fell. The state's $888 million in revenues during December was the second lowest monthly take this year.

On the Strip during December, gaming revenues fell 23.2 percent to $474.2 million.

Gaming revenues statewide declined 5.4 percent in the first six months of 2008 and 14 percent over the last half of the year. In the fourth quarter (October, November and December), gaming revenues statewide fell 18.9 percent.

On the Strip, gaming revenues fell 5.2 percent from January to June and 15 percent from July through December.

"By far, the fourth quarter was the most challenging the gaming industry has ever faced," Streshley said.

The declining revenues in December affected statewide gaming taxes for the month. The state collected $35.8 million, a decline of 22.7 percent compared with $46.3 million collected for the same time period a year ago. So far in the fiscal year, gaming tax collections are off almost 16.2 percent.

According to the state, the economy kept gamblers from spending like they had in the past. Customers wagered $125.5 billion on slot machines statewide in 2008, 8.8 percent less than in 2007. Almost $29.8 billion was wagered on table games, 5.8 percent less than a year ago. Strip casinos saw table-game betting decline by 5.2 percent, and slot machine wagering fell 10.1 percent.

In Clark County, gaming revenues fell 9.9 percent in the year. Downtown Las Vegas gaming revenues were off 8.1 percent, the third decrease over the past four years. Meanwhile, the area known as the balance of Clark County (down 7.2 percent) and the Boulder Strip (off 10.5 percent) suffered their first annual gaming revenue declines ever.

Washoe County gaming revenues fell 11.4 percent to $930.1 million, the first time the Northern Nevada community saw revenues drop below $1 billion since 1997.

The Gaming Control Board figures were followed by more weak numbers from Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, which reported that during the last 12 months, the 50 largest gambling companies saw $140 billion wiped away from their total value.

"The economy has gotten a lot worse than most people expected, and it's unlikely to improve in 2009," Warwick Bartlett, the head of the international gambling consultancy said.

He said the biggest losers were the casino operators Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Mirage, who have seen values fall by 93 percent and 88 percent, respectively.

Asian sources have recently reported that Macau casino tycoon Dr. Stanley Ho and his firm Sociedade de Jogos de Macau were equally mauled by recession, some sources claim by as much as 89 percent (see previous InfoPowa report).

Bartlett says that the world's largest gambling company by market capitalisation is now OPAP S.A., the monopoly provider of sports betting services and numerical lotteries in Greece.

"It is perhaps surprising that OPAP and Greece are under threat from the liberalisation of gambling laws across Europe, but the market is telling us that they expect OPAP to maintain its monopoly," the consultancy said in a statement.

GBGC observed that United Kingdom-based public companies Rank Group and William Hill, once listed as the seventh and eighth largest gambling companies, have now fallen to 36th and 20th, respectively.

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