ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- After two bad years in which gamblers either stayed home or held onto their wallets more tightly, the nation's casinos began to slowly rebound last year, with revenue increasing slightly even as the number of jobs declined.
An annual American Gaming Association survey released Wednesday found the nation's 483 commercial casinos took in $34.6 billion in 2010, an increase of just under 1 percent from the $34.28 billion posted in 2009. That marked the first time in three years the casinos' revenue increased.
But jobs in the industry declined slightly to 340,564, a loss from 2009 of 4,346, or 1.3 percent. That was due largely to casinos shedding workers to cope with the continued sluggish economy. Oklahoma experienced the largest percentage decline in its work force when one of its three racetrack casinos closed last year, eliminating about 327 jobs.
"There's no question the last several years have been challenging for the commercial casino industry," said Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., the association's president. "There's good reason to be optimistic about the future of gaming. The industry has made tough choices and implemented new strategies to persevere."
Casino taxes to state and local governments totaled nearly $7.6 billion, an increase of 3 percent.
Nevada's casinos took in $10.4 billion, virtually the same amount as the year before.
Atlantic City, N.J., the nation's second-largest casino market after Las Vegas, posted the biggest annual decline at 9.4 percent.
New Jersey was for years the only state beside Nevada with legal commercial casinos, but it's now is beset by fierce competition from casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, not to mention Indian casinos a short drive away in Connecticut.
Fahrenkopf said the recession hit at the worst possible time for Atlantic City, right when plans for five new casinos worth more than $10 billion were on the drawing board. Only one, the half-finished Revel, survived.
The addition of table games led to big revenue increases for Pennsylvania (nearly $2.5 billion, up more than 26 percent), while the opening of a new casino in Florida and the first full year of operations for another helped the Sunshine State post a nearly 52 percent revenue increase.
The biggest percentage increase in the nation occurred in Kansas, but it was a statistical fluke: the state's only casino had only been open for one month in 2009. In its first full year of operation, it took in nearly $37.8 million, for an increase of nearly 1,800 percent.
New York's eight racetrack casinos took in nearly $1.1 billion last year, a 6.9 percent increase, while Oklahoma's two racinos took in nearly $100 million, an increase of more than 7 percent. South Dakota's 34 low-stakes casinos took in $106 million, a 4.2 percent increase.
The nine casinos in Illinois took in $1.37 billion, a decline of 4.2 percent. Louisiana's 18 casinos took in $2.37 billion, a decline of 3.7 percent, and the 30 casinos in Mississippi took in $2.39 billion, a 3.2 percent decline.
The statistics do not include about 450 Indian casinos, which took in $26.4 billion in 2009, the last year for which figures are available according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The survey also paints a demographic picture of casino visitors: Men are more likely to have visited a casino than women, and the most likely age group to patronize a casino is the 50-64 segment. One quarter of the U.S. population gambled at a casino in 2010, down from the 28 percent who did so in 2009. More than 13 million people went to casinos for attractions like restaurants, concerts or other entertainment, but did not gamble while there.
Slots remained the favorite form of gambling in U.S. casinos at 51 percent, followed by blackjack (19 percent), poker (7 percent), craps (5 percent) and roulette (4 percent).
The survey also found that proximity has a great deal to do with how often people patronize casinos. People who visited a casino within a two-hour drive from their homes went nearly 10 times a year. Those who went to destination casinos farther away went less than three times a year.
Nongambling attractions are an important draw for many casino patrons, and they are the foundation of Atlantic City's efforts to revive itself and differentiate itself from competitors in neighboring states.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a survey of casino visitors taken as part of the AGA survey said they had eaten at a fine dining restaurant while they were at a casino, and 56 percent said they saw a show while the were there. Sixteen percent of those questioned said they rarely or never gamble when they visit a casino.
That's clearly a big part of the appeal for Mike Lopez, a retired jail guard who regularly catches big-name concerts at the casinos in his hometown, Atlantic City. He's recently seen Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and Aerosmith at Boardwalk Hall, Stone Temple Pilots at the Borgata, and has tickets for 3 Doors Down later this month at the Tropicana.
"We play a little, just for fun," he said, estimating he spends about $200 to $300 per visit, including gambling and entertainment. "There's a lot of great restaurants here in Atlantic City, and I love walking the Boardwalk."
The survey also found that Americans spent three times as much gambling at casinos as they did on movie tickets or outdoor equipment last year. But they spent three times more on cable television than they did in casinos.
The top 10 casino markets in the nation in terms of revenue were Las Vegas at $5.8 billion; Atlantic City at $3.6 billion; the Chicagoland region of Illinois and Indiana at $2.05 billion; Connecticut at $1.4 billion; Detroit at $1.38 billion; St. Louis at $1.08 billion; the Tunica-Lula, Miss, area at $926 million; Biloxi, Miss., at $830 million; the Philadelphia region at $816 million; and Shreveport, La., at $764 million.
Philadelphia was tops among the racetrack casino market, followed by Yonkers, N.Y.; Indianapolis; Charles Town, W.Va.; and Providence, R.I.
Two-thirds of gamblers use player's club loyalty cards. The most popular uses for comp points were dining (35 percent), free play (18 percent) and hotel rooms (15 percent).
Casino patrons in Nevada bet $2.7 billion on sporting events, although most of that was paid back in winnings. Gross gaming revenue from sports betting in Nevada was $151.1 million, about 5.5 percent of the amount wagered. Football remained the most popular sport for bettors at 43 percent; the Super Bowl accounted for $81 million in bets in Nevada.
Among other forms of gambling, the most popular among survey respondents was playing the lottery (49 percent). Playing poker outside a casino accounted for 12 percent, betting on horse races was 9 percent, and only 1 percent engaged in Internet gambling.