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Steady through the Slump: Indian Gaming Revenues Held Steady In 2010

Indian gaming remained strong and steady in 2010, providing a bright spot in a U.S. economy that continued to slide into a deeper slump.

The Indian gaming industry generated gross revenues of $26.5 billion in 2010, holding the line with revenues a year earlier, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission. The commission had reported 2009 gaming revenues of $26.5 billion. The commission released its annual 2010 Gross Gaming Revenue report released July 18 at a public meeting at the Chickasaw Nation Riverwind Casino in Norman, Oklahoma.

“In this challenging economic climate, tribal gaming remains a stable and reliable tribal economic enterprise that generates jobs and revenues for the betterment of Indian communities,” said Tracie Stevens, National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) chairwoman.

The NIGC is an independent federal agency that regulates gaming on Indian lands ”for the purpose of shielding Indian tribes from organized crime and other corrupting influences; to ensure that Indian tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming revenue; and to assure that gaming is conducted fairly and honestly by both operators and players,” according to it website. The commission conducts investigations; undertakes enforcement actions, including the issuance of notices of violation, assesses civil fines, issues closure orders; conducts background investigations; conducts audits; and reviews and approves tribal gaming ordinances.

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NIGC’s Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) for 2010 is based on 422 independently audited financial statements submitted by 236 gaming tribes. A table provided with the report shows a steady increase in Indian gaming revenues from $12.8 billion in 2001 to a high of $26.7 billion in 2008. Then in 2009, after the 2008 collapse of many large financial institutions, a downturn in the stock market, a massive government bailout of some of the largest banks, tight credit and soaring interest rates, Indian gaming had its first decline in revenues since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act dropping 1 percent to $26.5 billion, according to the commission.

The largest number of casino operations – 88 of them – generated gross revenues of $10 million to $25 million. The next highest number of gaming operations – 74 – each generated under $3 million. In descending order, 72 operations generated $3-$10 million; 61 generated $25-$50 million; 53 generated $50-$100 million; 53 generated $200-$250 million; and only 21 Indian casinos earned $250 million and over. Overall, 55 percent of Indian gaming operations reported gaming revenues of less than $25 million, and of these operations, around 62 percent made less than $10 million.

Around half of the Indian gaming operations -- 49 percent -- showed an increase in gaming revenues last year. Of these operations, approximately 10% showed more than a 50% increase over 2009, the commission said. The increases were due to moderate expansions of existing casinos and casinos that opened during 2009 and recognized the first full-year revenue impact in 2010. Approximately 51% of operations reported a gaming revenue decrease from their 2009 gaming revenues; however, three quarters of these operations experienced decreases of less than 10%. On average, the gains and losses in the industry evened out, the commission said.

For both 2009 and 2010, the most growth in GGR occurred in the Oklahoma City Region, which had 51 gaming operations and gross revenues of $1.6 billion in 2010, up from $1.5 billion the previous year. Growth also occurred in western Oklahoma, Texas and the Portland Region, which includes 50 gaming operations throughout Washington State, Idaho and Oregon and saw revenues of $2.7 billion in 2010, up from $2.5 billion in 2009. Gaming revenues represent amounts wagered less prizes paid. Revenue trends for 2009 and 2010 indicate that other regions are also gaining momentum, the commission said. The NIGC monitors Indian gaming in seven regions.

“Indian gaming is the Native American success story,” National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on July 28. “For more than three decades, Indian gaming has proven to be the most successful tool for economic development for many Indian tribes. Indian tribes have dedicated gaming revenues to improve basic health, education, and public safety services on Indian lands.” Gaming revenues have allowed tribes to improve tribal infrastructure, build roads, hospitals, schools, public safety buildings, water projects, and provided investments in renewable energy projects, retail operations, manufacturing and other entrepreneurial ventures, creating over 600,000 direct and indirect jobs for Natives and non-Natives in 2010, Stevens said. “Without question, we are putting people to work,” Stevens said.