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Patron profile details average gambler

With so much attention focused upon such topics as gaming's effect on the economic vitality of Indian tribes, industry regulation and compulsive gambling, to name but three, often lost in the shuffle are casino patrons themselves. Just who are these people pulling the handles on the "one-armed bandits" or waiting for an ace at the blackjack tables? And where do they come from? A recently published report sheds some light on these and other questions.

Commissioned by Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the "Profile of the American Casino Gambler" puts to rest the stereotypical image of the typical casino patron as a seedy, unscrupulous drunk whiling away his time and fortune in a catatonic stupor of wagering frenzy. Indeed, the July 11 profile draws clear distinctions between the preferences and lifestyle choices of those who gamble and those who don't.

Readers of this column are invited to peruse the study at their leisure; it is available online at: www.harrahs.com/about_us/survey/. There are, items of considerable significance to Indian country, which can be found by reading between the lines.

Of the so-called "feeder" states, those from which the most casino trips originate, Texas ranked sixth. Yet that state's attorney general continues his campaign to shut down Indian casinos in that state. With 22.8 percent of its adult population counted among gaming "participants" making some 12.7 million casino visits, it makes one wonder why Texas doesn't try to keep its gaming dollars in-state rather than allowing them to flow across state lines to Louisiana, New Mexico and elsewhere. This seemingly sensible move would help both the state's coffers and its three federally recognized tribes.

Casino gamblers in several states listed Indian-owned facilities as their top gaming destination, including: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.

What is most striking here is that casino gamblers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, having no casinos of any type in their home states, visited Connecticut's two Indian-owned casinos much more frequently than any other gambling destination. While statistical samples from Maine and Vermont were too small for accurate comparison, we can safely assume by their proximity that gamblers in these two states are just as likely to frequent the Connecticut casinos as are their New England brethren.

Casino controversy continues to wrack New England. Pro-gaming elements in various Massachusetts locales have expressed interest in a casino, while pro- and anti- gaming factions collide in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Of course, the recent recognition of Connecticut's Eastern Pequots and the pending petitions for recognition from two other tribes in that state could mean at least one more casino may enter the fray.

Consider also that 77 percent of casino trips originating from the Boston market ended in Connecticut, as did 87 percent of those from the Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Mass. area. Only minimal percentages of these casino gamblers reported visits to Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Another Connecticut casino, and/or one in Rhode Island or southeastern Massachusetts would be well situated to garner a piece of this action.

New York City, on the other hand, was a different story, with a reported 75 percent of gaming trips going to Atlantic City and only 11 percent destined for Connecticut. Potential Indian casinos in southwestern Connecticut and/or New York state's Catskill Mountains could put a large dent in Atlantic City's seeming stranglehold over NYC's casino gamblers.

The New England casino market is in no way saturated; but the next entrant, be it in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island or elsewhere, would gain a significant advantage over latecomers.

From Buffalo, 64 percent of casino gamblers traveled to Canadian casinos, primarily right across the Niagara River in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Seneca Nation of Indians hopes to put a dent in that figure with a pair of casinos on the New York side of the river. Negotiations over unionizing casino workers have delayed the formal signing of the compact by Governor George Pataki.

Looking at figures from the West Coast, it is easily apparent that Indian gaming has taken a significant bite out of Nevada's commercial gaming industry. While Nevada's casinos are not necessarily suffering terribly from Indian competition, the days of their Western monopoly on casino gaming are certainly a thing of the past.

California's casino gamblers made 43 percent of their visits to Indian casinos in that state, compared with trips to Las Vegas and Reno, which accounted for 24 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Sixty-one percent of Arizona's casino gamblers' trips were taken to that state's Indian gaming operations, versus only nine percent to Las Vegas. New Mexico's gamblers made more visits to their state's Indian casinos than to Las Vegas by a margin of 73 percent to 19 percent. Washington State and Oregon gamblers also preferred Indian casinos to Nevada's commercial gaming establishments by wide margins.

Harrah's profile is based upon data compiled in a pair of nationwide studies. In the Roper Reports, by Roper ASW, 2,000 adults (age 18 and older) were personally interviewed; the margin of error in this survey is plus or minus three percent. In the U.S. Gaming Panel, by NFO WorldGroup Inc., 100,000 questionnaires were mailed to adults (age 21 and over) generating over 66,000 responses, from which NFO polled almost 18,000 casino patrons it calls the "U.S. Gaming Panel." This survey has a margin of error ranging from plus or minus one percent to plus or minus five percent.

Study Commission Gets the Axe

On July 17, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to kill a proposed commission to study Indian gaming. By a vote of 273 ? 151, lawmakers opted not to repeat the activities of a two-year, $5-million probe of the same topic that was completed less than three years ago. In that case, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found a multitude of positive economic benefits to tribes, and no evidence of widespread corruption nor organized criminal influence in Indian gaming.

The proposed study commission was the brainchild of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a staunch opponent of Indian gaming. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that since Rep. Wolf's probe was introduced in June 2001, it had only attracted 13 co-sponsors. In an attempt to force its passage, Rep. Wolf attached the bill to the Interior Department's proposed budget.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., who led the opposition to the proposal, noted that since the 1980s, there have been 73 federal studies of Indian economics, including gaming, six of which were proposed by Rep. Wolf.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., was more succinct. "This is just another way for Frank Wolf to do damage to my district's major industry," she told the Review-Journal on July 18. "He is looking for the worst aspects of gaming, and when the National Gambling Impact Study Commission report did not yield the results he wanted, he thought he would try a different approach."

"Indian tribes have been studied to death ? we don't need another study," said Ernie Stevens, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, in a press release. "Rep. Wolf just doesn't like the answers he's getting. Another study would have been harassment, plain and simple."