Indian Gaming Revenues Showing Signs of Recovery

Aliese M. McArthur, New Mexico State University

Thaddieus W. Conner, Boise State University

William A. Taggart, New Mexico State University

Introduction

This research note continues our investigation into the connection between Indian gaming revenues and the economic climate by providing an update on the current condition of Indian gaming in several states including New Mexico, California, Arizona, Connecticut and Oklahoma, all of which were subjects of previous notes. Our research notes have shown that the Indian gaming industry, while previously considered “recession-resistant,” is, in fact, susceptible to fluctuations in the economy (Conner and Taggart 2009a, 2009b, 2010; McArthur, Conner, and Taggart 2011). Following the collapse of the American housing finance market in 2007, Indian gaming revenues in Connecticut, New Mexico and Arizona showed significant revenues losses.

Further investigation revealed that some Indian tribes were utilizing defensive business strategies to offset, at least to some extent, the effects of the recession on gaming revenues (Conner and Taggart 2009; 2010). The two main strategies observed were decreasing the number of casino employees and increasing the number of slot machines on the floor, which are both more lucrative than table games and less costly, as they do not require labor for operation. Specifically in California, where information on tribal revenues was unavailable, a non-trivial increase in slot machines was observed, indicating that difficult times were being experienced by Indian gaming nations from coast to coast (Conner and Taggart 2010b). Oklahoma was the only state analyzed in past notes where revenues did not show significant changes in correlation with the recession (Conner and Taggart 2010a). We concluded that this is likely due to the relatively recent introduction of Class III gaming in the state, which is still realizing its revenue potential.

According to a report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in 2010, the “Great Recession” that swept the nation in the fourth quarter of 2007 officially ended in June 2009. If this is the case, and Indian gaming revenues are affected by the economy as previous research notes suggest, then we would expect to see a recovery in Indian gaming revenues sometime between late 2009 and late 2011, which is the most recent data available for many states. In fact, the research note completed in mid 2011 examining gaming in Arizona indicates that the gaming tribes had begun to see some recovery as early as the second quarter of 2010. In order to discover if this recovery is an anomaly or a trend across states, this research note updates and examines revenue related information for the gaming tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Connecticut and Oklahoma as well as slot machine based data for the nations in California.

In addition to the research note on Arizona, a 2011 American Gaming Association (AGA) report on trends in the commercial casino industry indicates that good news may be on the horizon for casinos across the board (2011). According to AGA’s “2011 State of the States,” commercial casinos saw a 0. 9% increase in revenues in 2010, as opposed to a 5. 5% decrease in 2009. Further, 14 of 21 states with commercial casinos saw an increase in revenues in 2010, and 6 of 7 states that saw decreases in revenues witnessed much smaller losses than in previous years. While data on the commercial gaming industry is not yet available for 2011, these statistics may indicate positive trends across states for both commercial and Indian gaming casinos. In fact, a March 2012 report by Alan Meister, one of the Indian Gaming Industry’s leading analysts, shows that Indian gaming casinos saw similar revenue increases in 2010. Given this, we should expect to see recovery, to some extent, in the states analyzed in this research note.

As in previous research notes, this note focuses only on Indian gaming casinos that employ slot machines and table games, classified by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988 as “Class III gaming”. Under the Act, Indian tribes and the states in which they are located must negotiate tribal-state gaming compacts in order to offer Class III games. These compacts differ between states, but usually include a stipulation not only that gaming tribes must report their net winnings, at some level of aggregation, but also that they must share revenues targeted to certain funds. Many times this includes the state’s general fund but is also used to funnel money back to both non-gaming and gaming tribes. While data on actual revenues are not available for many states, per privacy clauses in the compacts, data on contributions functions as a comparable alternative, as most are based on net win revenues. Further, as several states have experienced an increase in the number of slot machines on casino floors as a possible strategic response to the recession, data on these numbers provides another metric in which to explore the effects of economic shifts on Indian gaming1.

The next section addresses the three states which have witnessed recovery: New Mexico, California and Arizona. The following section examines two states, Connecticut and Oklahoma, which did not display the same trends; it is important to note, however, that “non-recovery” may not be an accurate way to categorize these states, as research shows that their revenues are likely affected by factors outside of the national economic climate, and may not have experienced a significant decline in the first place. We conclude with a general discussion of the results and the state of the Indian gaming industry in these turbulent times.

Indian Gaming Tribes Showing Recovery

This section updates and details revenue related trends in New Mexico, California and Arizona. New Mexico and Arizona showed revenue losses following the economic crisis, and California and Arizona showed an increase in the number of slot machines on the floor during the same time span. The research note on Arizona showed signs of recovery, and the findings here show a similar trend in New Mexico and California.

Indian Gaming in New Mexico

In New Mexico, 14 of the 22 tribes offer Class III Gaming in at least one casino. Although these tribes do not all operate under the same Tribal-State Compacts, they are all required to report their net win revenue to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board (NMGCB) on a quarterly basis2. Unlike in most states, this data is available to the public. Revenue analyzed includes only 13 of the 14 gaming tribes, as the Navajo nation is a more recent industry entrant and inclusion of this data may skew the results. A previous research note on revenues in the state showed revenue losses through the fourth quarter of 2008. Further, Indian Gaming tribes in New Mexico tend to see their highest revenues in the 3rd quarter and lowest revenues in the 1st quarter. The exceptions to this trend are witnessed in 2008 and 2009, during the peak of the recession, when the 3rd quarter revenues came in behind 2nd quarter revenues. Figure 1 shows the percent change every quarter and percent change every fourth quarter from the 4th quarter of 2005 through the third quarter of 20113. This figure displays data for 11 additional time points since the last research note in 2009, and data used is adjusted for inflation4.

Figure 1: Percent Change in Net Win Revenues Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters in New Mexico, 2005. 4-2011. 3

Aside from the annual cycle, no additional trends are apparent in percent change every quarter. The percent change every four quarters, however, shows that Indian Gaming tribes in New Mexico have witnessed a significant recovery since end of the recession. The first negative percent change is witnessed in the 1st quarter of 2008, with substantial losses beginning to diminish in the fourth quarter of 2009, almost exactly aligning with NBER’s recession time points. The first positive percent change is witnessed in the 3rd quarter of 2010, and while percent change every four quarters is negative again for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2011, this change is relatively small in comparison to earlier losses and does not represent enough time points to assume a relapse. Rather, only time will tell if revenues are stabilizing, falling, or will continue increasing.

In addition to New Mexico’s net win revenue data being available to the public, so too is this data available by tribe. To discover whether the recovery is a trend across gaming Nations or whether the

Figure 2: New Mexico Net Win Revenue by Tribe, 2005. 4-2011. 3

aggregate data is affected by a small number of very successful tribes, we analyzed individual tribes’ revenue between the 4th quarter of 2005 and the 3rd quarter of 2011, which can be found in Figure 2. While the spike in revenues for the Pojoaque pueblo in the 3rd quarter of 2008 is one of the most striking trends in Figure 2, it is somewhat offset by a decrease in revenues for the Acoma tribe. The increase witnessed by the Pojoaque reflects the opening of the new Buffalo Thunder casino and resort in August of 2008 (Hotel News Resource), and though the authors have no true way of knowing, the decrease in Acoma revenues may be in response to the same event. Generally, it appears that no individual tribe is affecting the overall trends in the aggregate data.

Indian Gaming in California

While no revenue related data is available for the state of California, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) produces yearly reports on Indian gaming revenues by region. The Sacramento region includes all of California and a few gaming tribes from Nevada. While looking at this data may provide a glimpse into the revenue trends in the area, it is also important to consider the number of Indian gaming operations for which revenues are reported, which fluctuates from year to year. Figure 3 shows the percent change in annual Indian gaming revenues per operation for the Sacramento region from 2001-2010 in both current and constant dollars (NIGC 2010).

Figure 3: Percent Change in Revenues per Operation for the Sacramento Region, 2001-2010 in Current and Constant Dollars

As would be expected given all previous research and analysis, revenues per operation in the Sacramento region experienced significant declines during the years of the recession. Both the current and constant dollar analyses show that while revenue gains began decreasing as early as 2005, the Sacramento region experienced its first revenue losses in 2007. These losses persisted into 2008 and 2009, and finally began diminishing in 2010. While 2010 does not show an actual positive percent change, it is important to note that the data for 2010 does not reflect total revenues, as three operations changed their fiscal year end date for 2010 and therefore only reported 9 months of revenue for this year (NIGC 2010). While data from 2011 will be even more telling of the trend in the region, it is quite possible that the decrease in revenue losses from 2009 to 2010, combined with the fact that 2010 does not have full revenue data, suggests a recovery for the region.

More telling than yearly data from the Sacramento region is quarterly data for the 58 casinos, run by 57 tribes, in the state of California on payments made to their Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) (California Gambling Control Commission [CGCC] 2010). This fund is designed to support non-gaming tribes and payments are calculated using a sliding scale and based on the number of slot machines in operation. Thus, as slot machines increase in number, payments made to the RSTF will also increase, and vice versa. While fluctuations in the RSTF may be exaggerated due to the nature of this sliding scale, its relation to the number of slot machines makes it a telling indicator of economic fluctuation, as has been shown in several other states.

Figure 4: Percent Change in RSTF Payments Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters in Connecticut, 2005. 4-2011. 3

Figure 4 shows the percent change every quarter and every four quarters in payments made to the RSTF from the 4th quarter of 2005 to the 3rd quarter of 2011, which represents an additional 5 time points since the last research note5. Because of the inverse relationship between the number of slot machines in operation and the economic climate, we would expect to see an increase in payments made to the RSTF as the economy worsens. Though somewhat lagging behind the recession time points, as may be predicted because changing the number of slot machines is a response to the economic climate, the percent change every four quarters in payments to the RSTF shows that, generally, tribes were increasing their number of slot machines between the 2nd quarter of 2008 and the 3rd quarter of 2010. Beginning in the 4th quarter of 2010 and continuing through the four most recent quarters, we actually see a decline in payments to the RSTF suggesting that not only did casinos begin stabilizing the number of slot machines in operation, but even possibly decreasing that number. We believe, like in other states, this trend suggests some recovery for casinos in California as they return to other forms of gaming such as table games that are more labor intensive.

Indian Gaming in Arizona

While a recent research note on Arizona already indicated recovery in revenue related data following the recession, it is important to update the analysis to discover whether the recovery continued progressing or was short lived. As in most states, data on net win revenues is not available for Arizona, so we use contributions to the Arizona Benefits Fund (ABF) which funnels money to the state’s education, healthcare and tourism programs, among others (Arizona Department of Gaming [ADG] 2011). Tribal contributions range from 1% to 8%, calculated using a sliding scale, and based on net win revenues. Twenty-one of the state’s 22 Indian tribes have Tribal-State Gaming Compacts; 15 of the tribes run 23 casinos while the other 6 lease their gaming rights to those tribes with existing operations.

The previous research note showed that in all years, contributions were lowest in the fourth quarter of the calendar year (October – December); in 3 of 5 years for which we had data for all four quarters, the 2nd quarter of each year (April – June)reflected revenues higher than the 3rd quarter of the previous year (July – September). The 2 cases where this was not witnessed were in 2008 and 2009, again falling exactly within the NBERs recession time points.

Figure 5 shows the percent change every quarter and every four quarters in contributions to the ABF from the 4th quarter of 2005 through the 3rd quarter of 2011 (calendar year). This figure represents data for an additional 2 time points beyond the last research note and data used is adjusted for inflation6.

Figure 5: Percent Change in ABF Contributions in Arizona Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters, 2005. 4-2011. 3

Previous analysis showed that revenue (contribution) losses began diminishing in the 4th quarter of 2009, and the 4th quarter of 2010 saw the first positive percent change. In addition to the recovery already witnessed, the increasing positive percent changes in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2011 suggest that revenues have remained on the incline for gaming tribes in the state.

In addition to witnessing changes in revenue-based contributions, Arizona also showed evidence of altering business strategies in response to the economic climate. Increasing the number of slot machines is often an indicator of tough economic times, and Arizona showed both an increase in slot machines during the height of the recession as well as a decrease in slot machines in response to the end of the recession. Like with contributions, trends in the number of slot machines are not easily identifiable when viewed in the aggregate; instead, we have calculated both the percent change every quarter and percent change every four quarters for the number of slot machines in Arizona. Figure 6 displays this data from the 4th quarter of 2005 through the 3rd quarter of 2011.

Figure 6: Percent Change in Number of Slot Machines in Arizona Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters, 2005. 4-2011. 3

Almost immediately apparent is the trend in percent change every four quarters during the time frame of the national recession; beginning in the fourth quarter of 2007, percent change every four quarters increases dramatically by almost 4%. While the decrease in the percent change every four quarters begins before the official end of the recession, the end of 2009 witnesses a sharp decline and even a negative percent change heading into the new year. This indicates that Indian gaming tribes in Arizona were not only slowing the increase of slot machines, but even decreasing the number of slot machines during the period of economic recovery. While the last two quarters witness a stabilization of percent change every four quarters (indicating a stabilization of slot machine numbers in comparison to the same quarters in 2010), they still show a very minimal negative percent change. Further, while Figure 6 reflects the same time points as all other figures in this note, slot machine counts are available for more recent quarters than revenue based data. Throughout the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2010 as well as all of 2011, the number of slot machines in operation fluctuated between 14,485 and 14,469; the most recent figure collected March 1, 2012 shows an additional decline in slot machines, with a total of 14,261 machines.

Generally, the combination of increased payments to the ABF and decreased number of slot machines in the state shows that Indian gaming revenues in Arizona continue recovering, though modestly, since the initial onslaught of the recession in 2007.

Connecticut and Oklahoma

This section updates and details revenue related trends in Connecticut and Oklahoma. Once again, relating the trends in this state to the economic recession may be misleading, as research shows that these states have been affected by forces outside the economy. In Connecticut, increased local competition has caused continued revenue losses. Oklahoma, on the other hand, only recently legalized Class III gaming in 2005 and is likely still realizing its full revenue potential.

Indian Gaming in Connecticut

Connecticut is host to two Indian gaming casinos which, per an agreement in the tribal-state compacts that requires the casinos to pay 25% of their gross operating revenues to the state, have exclusivity rights in the state7 (State of Connecticut Division of Special Revenue [SCDSR] 2009). These two casinos are the Foxwoods casino resort, run by the Mashantucket Pequot, and the Mohegan Sun casino, run by the Mohegan Indian tribe, both of which have had compacts with the state since the early 1990’s. A previous research note shows that, like in other states, these casinos were affected by the national recession, with a consistent positive trend in revenues until Fiscal Year 2007-08. As found in our analysis, the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2007-08, which corresponds with the 4th quarter of calendar year 2007 (again the first quarter of the recession according to NBER), witnessed the first significant decline in net win revenues. This decline persisted through the 3rd quarter of fiscal year 08-09 (the 1st quarter of the 2009 calendar year), and is the most recent data the research note covered.

Figure 7 shows the percent change every quarter and every four quarters in Net Win revenue for both casinos from the 4th quarter of 2005 through the 3rd quarter of 2011. This reflects an additional 10 time points since the last research note. As before, all data have been adjusted for inflation. The graph shows that the percent change every four quarters in net win revenue remained negative through the 3rd quarter of 2011. While the magnitude of the declines seems to be shrinking, there is no apparent “recovery” as in other states. However, unlike in other states, according to several sources, there was a continued increase in competition from surrounding states that may be responsible for the continued revenue losses in Connecticut (MaineBiz 2012; Caffrey 2011; Hallenbeck 2012). For instance, Pennsylvania is a recent entrant into the Class III gaming world, and Maine has upped the ante with its first “racino” and plans to introduce table games in the next few months (MaineBiz 2012). 8Gaming tribes in Connecticut took an even deeper hit more recently as a snow storm caused a lengthened power outage (Jacobson 2011).

Figure 7: Percent Change in Net Win Revenues Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters in Connecticut, 2005. 4-2011. 3

As if the Connecticut tribes have not been hit hard enough, the future does not likely bear good news for either of these casinos, as Indian tribes in Massachusetts will soon be opening casinos as well (Caffrey 2011). According to one news source, as much as 30% of Foxwoods’ customers come from Massachusetts, and interviews with several of these customers show they plan to play closer to home when those facilities become available.

The number of slot machines, which is another telling indicator of the economic climate, is also available for Connecticut’s two Indian gaming casinos. Figure 8 shows the total number of slot machines between the 4th quarter of 2005 and the 3rd quarter of 2011. As in other states, it is obvious that the Indian gaming tribes in Connecticut took a strategic approach to the effects of the national recession. The total number of slot machines remained relatively steady up until the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2008, at which point they increased significantly. Even more telling of the effects of the economic climate, in contrast to the effects of increased competition, is that the number of slot machines once again declines throughout the years following the recession, despite the fact that these casinos continued seeing revenue losses. While increasing the number of slot machines and simultaneously decreasing table games tends to ease the effects of the recession in the form of overall cost savings, it is likely this strategy would only exacerbate the effects of increased local competition, as these casinos must now find new ways to attract patrons. News articles regarding the trends and subsequent business strategies in Connecticut show that these casinos are taking alternate approaches to ease the effects of increased competition, including greater focus on hosting conferences as well as increasing the percentage they take from bets (Jacobson 2011). While generally revenues have continued to decline in Connecticut, news sources in combination with the trend in the number of slot machines show that it may be factors external to the economic climate in Connecticut that are causing the continued losses.

Figure 8: Total Number of Slot Machines in Connecticut, 2005. 4-2011. 3

Indian Gaming in Oklahoma

Indian gaming in Oklahoma is unique for a number of reasons. First, casino style gaming is new in the state, with the first Class III establishment with table games and slot machines beginning in 2005 (Oklahoma Gaming Commission 2009). Second, because most tribes are based in “non-land based” jurisdictions rather than located on reservations, tribes can pursue the operation of gaming machines at facilities other than casinos, such as gas stations and truck stops. As of the 3rd quarter of 2011, there are 31 gaming nations running Class III style operations in the state. As in other states, Tribal-State compacts mandate that gaming tribes pay a share of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) to the state9. All gaming tribes must report their AGR to the state on a monthly basis, and payments to the state include 10% of all net win from card games and a certain percentage of net win from slots, which is based on a progressive three-tiered scale. These payments are known as “exclusivity fees,” as they ensure the tribes’ exclusive rights to Class III gaming in the state.

Our previous research note analyzed trends in the exclusivity fees from the inception of Class III gaming in 2005 through the end of 2009 (Conner and Taggart 2010a). Because gaming tribes in the state were likely still realizing their revenue potential, the recession did not appear to cause any revenue losses. While revenue gains from year to year did begin to diminish in 2007, it is unclear if this is due to the recession or that gaming tribes began to reach a point of saturation; it is likely some combination of both effects. Although new tribes have been entering the gaming industry in Oklahoma since 2005 and through 2011, the previous note showed that these new entrants did not have a significant impact on the general trends in exclusivity payments. Similarly, although 2 new tribes – the Thlopthlocca Tribal Town and the Ponca Tribe – have entered the scene since the last research note, these tribes are once again considered to have negligible effects on the exclusivity payments and are included in the total despite their recent entry. In fact, the amount that each of these tribes’ contributes to total exclusivity payments is approximately 0. 05% and 0. 1%, respectively. Figure 9 shows the percent change every quarter and every four quarters in exclusivity payments from the 4th quarter of 2005 (at which point 25 of the 31 nations had established gaming operations) and the 3rd quarter of 2011 in current and constant 2005 dollars. Data used is adjusted for inflation and represents 7 additional time points since the last research note10.

Figure 9: Percent Change in Exclusivity Fee Payments in Oklahoma Every Quarter and Every Four Quarters in Oklahoma, 2005. 4-2011. 3

The magnitude of the positive percent change in payments between 2005 and 2007 can be attributed to the youth of the industry in the state, as evidenced in the last research note. Because of the magnitude of these percent changes, the fluctuations in percent change every quarter appear dwarfed. While increases in exclusivity fees began diminishing (evident in the percent change every four quarters between 2008 and 2010), they did so at a fairly steady rate, suggesting more of a stabilization of revenues rather than economic fluctuation based changes. While the economy did likely affect these revenues to some extent, even the small revenue losses witnessed in all 3 quarters of 2011 are likely due to revenue stabilization, as further suggested by Alan Meister in his 2012 report on Indian gaming revenue trends. As the Indian gaming industry in Oklahoma matures, it will be interesting to see whether there are latent effects felt from the poor economic climate over the next few years, or whether gaming tribes in this state have truly weathered the storm.

Conclusion

Previous research notes showed that the casino industry, particularly the Indian gaming industry, is more susceptible to the economic climate than previously thought, as evidenced by declining revenue-based data during the recession and increasing numbers of slot machines during the same time period. This research note set out to discover whether or not Indian gaming tribes have seen some recovery since the official end of the recession in late 2009, which would be expected given our findings that the industry is affected by the economy. In fact, our analysis demonstrates that three of five states have witnessed significant recovery (New Mexico, Arizona and California) and the declining revenues in the remaining two states (Connecticut and Oklahoma) are likely due to factors outside national economic trends such as increased local competition and the realization of revenue potentials. The general trend of recovery in these states may signal that the Indian gaming industry is beginning to stabilize after the crushing effects of the economic crisis that impacted states and tribes across the nation (Meister 2012). However, as Meister points out, while Indian gaming revenues for 2010 increased over those for 2009, these gains were not uniform across Indian Country.   Previous reports published by the American Gaming Association have shown that these differences are often caused by both internal and external factors such as increased competition, location, and relative age of the industry (AGA 2011). As such, it is likely that this research, in combination with that of Meister and others, comes as good news to many Indian gaming tribes across the nation.

Footnotes

1 Prior investigations indicate that graphically viewing aggregate revenue levels and similar measures over time reveals little more than a cyclical pattern in each state. A more telling indicator of revenue trends is discovered in the analysis of percent change every four quarters; in other words, the percent change in from one quarter of one year to the corresponding quarter of the next year. For this reason, we will focus on changes every four quarters in different states, supplemented with aggregate level data as appropriate.

2 According to the NMGCB, net win revenue is defined as “the amount wagered on gaming machines, less the amount paid out in cash and non-cash prizes won on the gaming machines, less State and Tribal regulatory fees” (New Mexico Gaming Control Board [NMGCB] 2009).

3 Calculating percent change and percent change every four quarters results in the loss of one and four time points, respectively.

4 Because the data are on a quarterly basis and the CPI deflator is only available on a yearly basis, it is possible that early quarters are underestimated or later quarters are overestimated.

5 Because payments to the RSTF are based on the number of slot machines rather than revenues, this data does not need to be adjusted for inflation.

6 Again because data are on a quarterly basis and the CPI deflator is only available on a yearly basis, it is possible that early quarters are underestimated or later quarters are overestimated.

7 According to the State of Connecticut Division of Special Revenues (2009), gross operating revenue is “the total sum wagered less amounts paid out as prizes. ”

8 A “racino” is a casino/horse race complex.

9 Adjusted gross revenue is defined by the compacts as “the total receipts received from the play of all covered games minus all prize payouts” (Oklahoma Gaming Commission 2009).

10 Again because data are on a quarterly basis and the CPI deflator is only available on a yearly basis, it is possible that early quarters are underestimated or later quarters are overestimated.

References

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