The growth in wagering at Arizona reservation casinos appears to be slowing.
New figures in a study being released this morning show that tribes took in more than $2 billion in gambling revenue in 2007. That is 4.9 percent more than the prior year.
And, using some rough projections, that translates out to total handle — the amount of money being wagered — somewhere in the $10 billion range.
But Alan Meister, who prepared the Indian Gaming Industry Report for Casino City Press, noted that Arizona managed to post a 13.4 percent increase between 2005 and 2006, and 13.8 percent the year before.
Meister, an economist with Analysis Group, said some of the slowdown in Arizona is reflective of the national economy.
The figures, however, show that the situation in this state may be a bit different than elsewhere. Arizona’s year-over-year growth for 2007 managed only 17th; for the two prior years was the 11th highest in the nation.
And there are indications that things are getting worse this year: Recently released figures from the Arizona Gaming Department show the amount of revenue the tribes are sharing with the state actually declined in the second quarter of this year.
Meister’s figures are one key indicator of how much reservation casinos are taking in, as individual tribes do not publicly disclose their revenue. In fact, the deal they have with the state requires those figures to be disclosed only to the Gaming Department, which monitors their activities, though there is one public report each fiscal year of total reported gambling revenue for all tribes combined.
But Meister, who has been studying the gambling industry for years, has developed both some confidential sources as well as models he has used for six prior annual reports.
That $2 billion figure represents the amount wagered in slot machines, video poker, blackjack and poker, minus what is paid out.
The pacts the tribes have with the state let them keep no more than 20 percent of what is wagered on slot machines, 17 percent for video poker and 25 percent for keno. So the real wagering figure could be closer to $10 billion — or more than $1,500 for every man, woman and child in the state — though some of that may be people simply plowing their winnings back into the same machines or games.
Wendell Long, chief executive of Sol Casinos, operated by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said the year-over-year increase of 4.9 percent should not come as a surprise.
“It’s standard business cycle,” he said. Long said that tribal gambling, which is less than two decades old in Arizona, grew rapidly.
“And now it’s leveling off,” Long said. “You can’t continue on ... with even 15 percent growth forever.”
And with the amount being wagered now so large, Long said even a 5 percent increase is a lot of dollars.
Meister said one factor that may be affecting Arizona gambling has been the cap on the number of gambling devices any tribe can operate.