NIGA optimistic in a time when revenues are down

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WASHINGTON - The growth rate in revenues from Indian gaming has fallen by more than half, from 12 percent in 2006 to 5.5 or 6 percent in 2007, according to the National Indian Gaming Association.

But NIGA Executive Director Mark Van Norman said that he doesn;t expect to see actual retraction in 2008, despite economic conditions that Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has acknowledged make a recession likely. NIGA doesn't forecast the future economic performance of Indian gaming, Van Norman said, but added that the industry's track record, combined with examples of growth in local venues, is cause for optimism.

''There has never been a retraction in the Indian gaming industry. ... I think there's a little bit of taking a deep breath in some places, but we're seeing growth in others.''

The national economy probably is making itself felt in Indian gaming, Van Norman said, especially where the national crisis in mortgage loan foreclosures has been most severe. People whose own homes are at risk, or who see foreclosures in the neighborhood, will think twice before spending money on anything beyond the necessities, he explained.

''I suspect that if you took out a map and looked at the areas that have been hardest hit in housing, you'll see a pullback in discretionary spending, and that would include entertainment.''

Van Norman declined to discuss specific tribes or regions, feeling it would be an affront to NIGA members.

Media accounts, however, tends to second a connection between the slump in housing and the slowdown in casino revenue growth. In Michigan, where the housing collapse follows a long period of job loss, the Leelanau Enterprise reports that revenue-sharing payments of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians are at their lowest sum in a decade following three years of decline.

In Nevada, according to The Washington Post, taxes on casino winnings are down 8.5 percent from projections, with only a fraction of the decline coming at the expense of the Las Vegas Strip.

In the Northeast, the New London (Conn.) Day states that the Foxwoods Resort Casino of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has seen a drop in gaming revenue of 7 percent from February 2007 - a substantial improvement from December 2007, when revenues were down 17 percent from December 2006; and that similarly, at the Mohegan Tribe's Mohegan Sun Casino, revenues fell 3.3 percent in February 2008 from February 2007, again a rebound from December 2007, when revenues fell 19 percent from December 2006.

In Oklahoma, Indian Gaming magazine analyst Tim Grogan foresees not so much a slowdown induced by the national economy as the ''shakeout'' of a maturing industry, ''with competition intensifying and profits declining. ... With higher marketing and service costs, more discounting, and flat or eroding customer counts, profits are suffering. While the extraordinarily high margins of the gaming industry make it difficult to actually lose money, some tribes have already found that their casino profit distributions have fallen dramatically.''

Still other tribes, as Van Norman noted, continue to expand their casino operations and their revenues. The MPTN remain committed to the May 17 grand opening of an MGM Grand hotel and casino, near its Foxwoods complex but geared toward business travelers. And in New Mexico, the Clovis News Journal finds that earnings are up at the Mescalero Apache Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino.