Both the latest data and anecdotal evidence continue to point to the health of the land-based U.S. gaming industry.
The latest statistical report from a major jurisdiction comes from Nevada. The latest anecdotal evidence comes from the just-held Indian Gaming Association convention and trade show in San Diego.
The Nevada revenue numbers can only be described as a blowout. Statewide gaming revenues in February jumped 11.15 percent over last year. The Las Vegas Strip was especially strong, soaring 18.92 percent. Table drop was about even as a 20.11 percent rise in baccarat offset a 4.74 percent decline in domestic indicator blackjack. Slot drop, perhaps the best indicator of the health of the American gambler, rose a healthy 11.02 percent.
Another indicator is that every Southern Nevada submarket rose healthily—Downtown Las Vegas, the various locals markets, Laughlin. That consistency was especially noteworthy.
Visitation and hotel rates also told a story of strength. Hotel occupancy continues its double-digit growth over last year. And, while still low to mid-single digits below pre-Covid-19, higher rates are pushing up revenues. February RevPAR along the Strip rose a hefty 29.6 percent over 2019.
The only declines were in Reno and surrounding communities, but that was because of the historic snows that buried the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which separate the Biggest Little City from its largest feeder markets in Northern California.
On the anecdotal side, there was no need to make comparisons at the Indian Gaming Association event with 2019. Attendee registration was simply a record. Period.
IGA, or NIGA as some of us veterans forgetfully continue to call it, may be a better barometer of business confidence than the Las Vegas numbers, which reflect consumer spending, or of G2E, which draws such a wide array of exhibitors and attendees for a variety of business reasons.
Motivation to attend IGA tends to be more simple and direct—a very high percentage of attendees are there to buy and a very high percentage of exhibitors expect to write business.
Thus, the big turnout at IGA did more than reflect recovery from Covid. It was an expression of business confidence by both suppliers and their casino customers whose dispersion across the United States can also be said to be a proxy for the health of regional gaming in general.
A Personal Note
A longtime friend recently received an important and singular honor. IGT President of Sports Betting Joe Asher was appointed by President Biden as chairman of the board of the Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The Wilson Center is a congressionally created and funded think tank that tackles the great issues of international relationships.
The appointment might seem unusual for a gaming executive, but it is not unusual for those who know Joe as a keen intellectual mind, a former Wall Street attorney, a person whose integrative skills were proven when, now some years ago, he accepted and succeeded in the task assigned by then-employer Cantor Fitzgerald to go to Nevada and win legalization of remote gaming.
After moving to Nevada, the young attorney pursued his enthusiasm for sports betting, by founding Brandywine Gaming, which launched and operated sportsbooks both under the Lucky’s name and those of various large casinos.
Joe and I share a heritage. We are both Delawareans. And, as I like to say, Delaware is not a state. It is a club. It is so small that we all know each other and, like a club, keep coming back together in different roles.
Indeed, the name Brandywine would mean nothing to most people, but mention it to a Delawarean and there is an immediate understanding of Brandywine Hundred, Brandywine Valley, Brandywine River and images of things Brandywine.
Later, Joe became CEO of William Hill US and currently heads IGT’s sports betting operations.
Now, he will play a role helping develop U.S. international policies.
In a sense, Joe’s appointment also is acknowledgement that gaming is now truly and fully mainstream. Not all that long ago, appointing a gaming entrepreneur and executive to such a role might have seemed incongruous. Not today. Way to go, Joe.