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Indian gaming revenue took big pandemic hit

Indian gaming saw revenues decline during a pandemic-filled 2020. (File photo)

Florida casinos have been operating at a more normal pace this year, so it may already be easy to forget the unprecedented impacts that the pandemic brought on the industry in 2020.

The first glimpses came in February 2021 when the American Gaming Association (AGA) reported that commercial gaming revenue dropped 31% in 2020 to $30 billion. It represented the first market contraction for the U.S. gaming industry since 2014 and the lowest gaming revenue total since 2003 – 18 years ago.

This summer revealed more revenue data – this time focused specifically on Indian gaming. The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) released its fiscal year gaming revenue figures for 2020 – $27.8 billion – a decrease of 19.5% over 2019. The Rapid City region (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming) experienced the largest decrease at 36.6%. Florida is one of seven states in the Washington, D.C., region where revenues were down 21%.

The revenue figures represent an aggregate from the financial statements of 248 federally recognized tribes across 29 states.

“Despite the limits and uncertainty of the last year, it is important to focus on the sacrifices of and economic refuge provided by tribes and the community impacts,” NIGC vice chair Jeannie Hovland said in a statement. “Tribal gaming has shown resilience and commitment, and continues to develop new roads to economic stability. I look forward to seeing Indian gaming continue to lead the way in efforts to reduce the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Smoother seas?

Many casino properties started reopening in mid-2020 and there were positive signs for the industry at the end of the year. The AGA reported some momentum with a 1.7% increase in revenues from the third to fourth quarters, although it still represented a 17% decrease year-over-year.

Nevertheless, the AGA’s research also showed that 1-in-3 American adults planned to visit a casino in 2021 – one of its highest reported rates. In addition, about 80% of future casino visitors agreed that the industry had done a good job at safely reopening.

Gaming’s performance has also been buoyed by the growth of sports betting, which has been big news in Florida this year. After going through a series of approvals, the Seminole Tribe can facilitate sports betting in Florida as early as Oct. 15. It also allows the tribe to add craps and roulette to its Florida casinos.

Legal sports betting had an all-time high of $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020, up 69 percent from 2019. iGaming revenue (poker, sports betting, online casinos) nearly tripled to almost $1.6 billion, according to the AGA.

(Chart from NIGC)

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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