NWI casino revenues get frosted in December

2014-01-10T17:59:00Z 2014-01-11T23:45:09Z NWI casino revenues get frosted in DecemberKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
January 10, 2014 5:59 pm  • 

Northwest Indiana casino revenues fell for the third year in a row in 2013, dropping 5.2 percent as increasingly robust cross-border competition continues to hack away at Indiana's mature gaming industry.

The $1.05 billion grossed by the region's five gaming boats compares to the $1.11 billion grossed in 2012, according to a Times tabulation of Indiana Gaming Commission revenue reports.

The pace of decline picked up significantly in December, with overall revenues at the five gaming boats plunging 17.6 percent as compared to the year-ago month, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission's December revenue report.

In 10 of the past 12 months, Northwest Indiana casino revenues have declined on a year-over-year basis.

The double-digit percentage decline in December was the first one of that magnitude for Northwest Indiana this year. But declines of that magnitude have become common statewide, said Indiana Gaming Insight Editor Ed Feigenbaum.

"It just really seems to be down everywhere," Feigenbaum said.

Slot machines at Illinois bars and restaurants, tribal casinos in Michigan, and Ohio's state-licensed casinos have combined to shrink Indiana's gaming revenue. However the proliferation of gaming opportunities also appears to be hurting revenues in other states as well, with even new casinos in Ohio having a very soft December.

Horseshoe General Manager Daniel Nita laid the blame for the dramatic December decline squarely on the weather.

"Hello from Siberia," he said to open a 4 p.m. Friday conference call. "I wish Siberia would end."

Snowy weekends early in December capped by miserable weather forecasts for New Year's Eve kept gaming patrons away, despite vigorous gaming promotions, Nita said.

But despite the lackluster year for casinos overall, Horseshoe increased its market share to 46.4 percent of the Northwest Indiana market and 22.8 percent of the overall Chicagoland market, Nita said. Horseshoe has the largest market share of any casino in either market.

The revenue declines at casinos have big implications for Northwest Indiana communities that host casinos as well as the state. Both share in gaming's success through taxes and development agreements that direct a cut of casino winnings into their own coffers.

A recent Times analysis shows Lake County government bodies have raked in $1.1 billion from the gaming boats since they opened two decades ago.

Feigenbaum said chances of help coming from the General Assembly this year are slim, as it is a short session. And state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, new chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, has indicated he wants to take a comprehensive look at the state of gaming before moving forward on any proposals.

"I think we will see a pretty big, intensive study over the summer and 2015 will be a year of intense activity in the General Assembly," Feigenbaum said.

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