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Study advocates longer compacts, more games for Wisconsin

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. ? A group of Wisconsin tribes has called for less restrictive gaming compacts in that state, citing a recently released study on the economic impact of Indian gaming there.

On March 19, the United Tribes of Wisconsin, a union of eight gaming tribes, presented a report calling for significant changes in the way Indian gaming is conducted in that state. The study by the noted econometrician Dr. Michael Evans makes several recommendations, including a re-negotiation of the length of gaming compacts between the tribes and the state "from five years to at least 30 years."

Evans is nationally known for his economic models, which produce computer simulations of the impact on national and regional economies of changes in key variables.

"Wisconsin is missing the opportunity to import dollars from neighboring states and keep Wisconsin citizens from leaving to patronize casinos in other states," the report said. "Because of the five-year life of the compact, most Indian nations cannot afford to take additional risks and build first-class facilities to attract high rollers."

Specific suggestions include keeping blackjack tables open 24 hours a day, boosting betting limits at both slot machines and blackjack games to $200 from $5 and introducing other games such as roulette and craps. These changes would "attract additional investors in casinos and related facilities, hence boosting both the number of visitors and the percentage of 'high rollers'" who currently gamble elsewhere.

The study estimates that if the state government were to remove restrictions on Indian gaming and lengthen the compacts, some 24,500 jobs would be created. The number of Wisconsinites employed by the Indian gaming industry would increase to around 59,320. Income and sales tax revenues to the state would rise by a combined $50 million to $137 million annually.

Indian gaming is currently responsible for 34,870 jobs in Wisconsin, generating $87 million annually for the state in tribal payments as well as in sales and income taxes.

Dr. Evans prepared the report, entitled "The Economic Impact of the Indian Gaming Industry in Wisconsin and Potential Impact of Modified Compact Terms," at the behest of the Tribes. Evans is chairman of Boca Raton, Fla.-based consulting firm Evans, Carroll & Associates. The firm specializes in "econometric model-building for individual firms and industries, and economic impact studies of current and proposed government legislation," said a news release.

"Gaming revenues per capita, based on population in the state and neighboring metropolitan areas, are only about half those for other leading states," Evans said in the release. "Permitting Wisconsin Indian gaming casinos to compete with those in Michigan and Minnesota on an equal basis would result in a substantial increase in gaming revenues and employment."

Evans compared Wisconsin's gaming data with that from New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and to a lesser extent, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi and California. Of these states, Wisconsin lagged significantly in per capita gaming revenue, at $110, as well as in average daily revenues from slot machines and table games at $150 and $845, respectively, for 2001.

If the state opts to lengthen compact terms and loosen time and type restrictions on games, the study estimates that "Wisconsin per capita gaming revenue could double; revenue per slot machine could increase 50 percent and revenue per game table could increase 84 percent."

The United Tribes' study comes on the heels of a previous report published last month by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (reported in ICT, Feb. 27). This report, entitled "Not Exactly a Fair Share," called for greater contributions from Wisconsin's gaming tribes to the state. After comparing Wisconsin with other states having revenue-sharing compacts, author William Thompson concluded that that state should receive $80 million to $90 million in revenue from the state's 17 casinos, as opposed to the annual payment of $24.6 million made last year.