Weather, competition squashed 1997 gaming revenue
Dismal 1997 numbers for South Shore casinos released Thursday by the Nevada Gaming Control Board don’t tell the whole story, according to local gamers.
With $294.5 million in winnings, the Lake Tahoe resorts were down 7.1 percent from 1996 totals, and December closed the year with a drop of 26 percent. Last year was the worst year in a three-year slump, according to board spokesman Russ Guindon.
Referring to a different report, Skip Sayre, director of marketing for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, said that volume was actually up in December.
“We didn’t get lucky, our guests got lucky,” he said. “Volume was up 8 percent over the prior year.”
The December holidays also tend to attract the high-roller, Sayre said. “That’s when you have volatility in the numbers.”
Agreeing with the state figures, Sayre and Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance Executive Director Steve Teshara confirmed that casino winnings in 1997 continued a downward trend.
“Looking at the history of gaming revenues in the market for the last three years, each year there’s a decline. Last year it was more prominent in the first quarter (because of road closures from floods and mudslides),” Sayre said.
“That’s why we’re so adamant that marketing moneys are so critical,” Teshara added.
Baccarat did particularly well on the South Shore in December. With those numbers included, gaming volume was up 8 percent and revenue up 6 percent. Without baccarat numbers, volume for the month was flat and revenue was down 30 percent, according to Sayre’s report.
The state as a whole, according to the Gaming Control Board report, experienced a 5-percent gain over 1996 with the megaresorts on the Las Vegas Strip leading the way with a 6.4-percent gain.
According to a national gaming analyst, Lake Tahoe gaming is kept down by a lack of gaming growth and lack of familiarity with the resort by gamblers.
“Like everyone else, Tahoe is competing with the Las Vegas Strip. That’s where we’re seeing the growth,” said Alan R. Woinski, president and chief executive officer of Gaming Venture Corp., U.S.A. in New Jersey. “Everybody else, if they stay flat, they’re happy.”
In 1997, the New York-New York casino opened on the Las Vegas Strip and existing casinos are continually expanding, revamping and adding, which attracts new and repeat visitors.
Lake Tahoe has been overlooked by gamblers, said Woinski, who called the area the “perfect resort destination.”
“Do you know how many people (on the East Coast) don’t know Lake Tahoe has casinos?” he said. “It’s not known as a gambling area, it’s known for skiing. The only time they hear about Lake Tahoe casinos is when there’s a mudslide and the roads to the casinos are closed … “(Lake Tahoe) needs to be marketed more as a gaming area.”
Woinski expects the large gaming corporations, such as Mirage, to eventually buy into Lake Tahoe resorts, which could perk up the industry.
In the meantime, Las Vegas continues to offer new attractions and reap big winnings.
The 1997 opening of another megaresort on the Las Vegas Strip – the New York-New York – helped to push the Strip win up 6.4 percent.
Gaming Control spokesman Guindon said other factors that accounted for the southern Nevada gain included a strong jump in money won from gamblers who play table games – especially high-stakes baccarat.
The Strip win pushed the statewide percentage up, since clubs there account for nearly half of the total win, he added.
The report also shows tax collections based on the win are up only 1.7 percent since last summer.
Guindon said the tax take will have to climb an average 13 percent for the rest of the fiscal year to hit the 1997 Legislature’s estimate – and the odds of that occurring are slim. About 35 percent of Nevada’s budget is funded by casino taxes.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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