Northwest Indiana casino revenues decreased 2.9 percent in total in April as compared to the year-ago-month, driven mainly by a large drop of 11.1 percent at the two Majestic Star boats in Gary.
The five Northwest Indiana boats had total revenue of $91.3 million in April, as compared to $94 million in April 2012, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission's April revenue report.
Total revenue at each of the five Northwest Indiana casinos dropped on a year-over-year basis, with the losses spread broadly although not evenly. The five boats in total eked out a small gain in March, after large drops the previous two months.
Horseshoe Casino General Manager Dan Nita attributed the downturn mainly to the heavy rains that caused severe flooding across the Chicagoland region in the third week of April.
"When there is severe flooding like that, people have more important things to do than come to the casino," Nita said.
Nita said it was an encouraging sign that despite customer flows being impacted directly for up to four days, Horseshoe saw revenues decline just 0.6 percent, with total April revenue of $41.5 million.
The mixed revenue picture for Northwest Indiana casinos comes as legislation allowing for a wholesale expansion of gaming in Illinois is again moving through the legislature there. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently sweetened the pot by saying all casino revenue turned over to the city of Chicago by any new casino there would go to schools.
Nita said Indiana casino operators are encouraged by the serious treatment Indiana's General Assembly gave to gambling legislation in the session just ended.
He said an annual tax deduction of up to $5 million for free play offered by casinos, a key part of the legislation, should help start to "level the playing field" with states like Ohio. There, free play offered as promotions by casinos is basically tax-free.
When it comes to casino gaming, some states are still growing their take, but usually at the expense of neighboring states, according to Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Gaming Insight. The possible legalization of online gaming would shake up gaming markets even more.
"If that's legalized in the next few years, why would you even need a downtown Chicago casino?" Feigenbaum said.
Although all five Northwest Indiana boats saw year-over-year revenue declines in April, some, like Horseshoe, suffered only nicks while others were cut more deeply.
Ameristar Casino raked in $19.4 million in April, a drop of 2 percent from April 2012, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission revenue report. Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City had total April revenues of $14.4 million, a drop of 0.9 percent from one year ago.
Majestic Star I revenues dropped 9.3 percent to $8.9 million in April as compared to April 2012. Majestic Star II's total take dropped to $7.1 million, a 13.3 percent drop from revenues of $8.2 million in the year-ago month.
The situation with Majestic Star's revenue declines is difficult to assess, Feigenbaum said. Owner Wayzata Investment Partners LLC may have the capacity to absorb lower revenues because it bought the casinos out of bankruptcy at a considerable discount, he said.