Arctic winter weather continue to chill the gambling business in Northwest Indiana, with overall revenues at the five gaming boats falling 12.1 percent last month, according to the February revenue report from the Indiana Gaming Commission.
Northwest Indiana's five boats brought in $81.59 million in February, as compared to $92.87 million in February 2013, the gaming commission reported.
Statewide, February gaming revenues plunged by 15 percent.
"The numbers are disturbing," said Indiana Gaming Insight Editor Ed Feigenbaum. "We did see the largest percentage decrease for a February."
Indiana gaming revenue fell below $200 million for the first time since January 2003, Feigenbaum said. Since then, Indiana has added a casino and two racinos.
"It's a real sea change," he said. "Weather, economic conditions and competition from a land-based casino in the Cincinnati market were partly to blame. But we need to look west across the border at the huge number of video gaming terminals."
Video gaming terminals gained ground on Northwest Indiana casinos over the winter, since many gamblers opted to stay closer to home than venture onto treacherous highways to get to the casino boats.
"In January and February, people were seeing all types of apocalyptic forecasts on Chicago television, and aren't going to go on the Dan Ryan or the Bishop Ford onto the Borman if they hear it's gridlock or there will be six inches of snow by the time they turn around to go back to Illinois," he said. "Some people still go to the Horseshoe, the Majestic Star and Ameristar because they like the environment, they like to be catered to, and they like the excitement. But that's not everyone."
A bad February does not augur well for the casino boats since it's normally one of their best months, Feigenbaum said. Casinos typically depend on February and March business to get off to a strong, profitable start for the year.
The casinos can hope pent-up demand will boost spending in March, but revenue is more likely to be within generally expected parameters. Gamblers might have been cooped up, but when they come back out to the casinos, they are not likely to spend twice or three times as much as they normally would have just because they did not gamble as much in January and February, he said.
Horseshoe revenues fell most drastically in February, falling 20 percent year over year. Revenues fell 14.3 percent at Majestic Star II, 9.8 percent at Majestic Star, 5 percent at Blue Chip and 2.4 percent at Ameristar.
Northwest Indiana was particularly impacted by the weather because it has lake effect snow that does not affect the Illinois side of the border as much, said Dan Nita, the Horseshoe Hammond general manager.
The casino hopes to attract more customers going forward with special events such as the recent Brews at Shoe craft beer festival, which will become an annual event.
"It was a great crowd," he said. "We had a 100 different craft beers and were pleased enough to make it an annual event. We had a lot of last-minute walk-ups. When we plan an event like that, there's a lot of angst and anticipation because you never know whether you're going to sell 500 tickets, 1,000 tickets or what."