Indian casinos feel impact of economic slowdown
Barbara Yanofsky, from Towanda, Pennsylvania, plays the slots at Casino Arizona on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community at Route 101 and McKellips Road Friday.

Arizona casinos are facing tougher odds as they try to avoid losses during the economic downturn.

Despite steadily growing revenue, the state’s 22 Native American-owned casinos, including several in the Valley, are raking in less than expected as the economy slows, according to gambling industry experts.

Sheila Morago, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, said revenue growth has slowed in recent months, although the annual figure for all of 2007 still showed a hefty increase.

“We only had a slight increase (.06 percent) in revenue during the last quarter of 2007 compared with the last quarter of 2006,” said Morago, whose nonprofit association represents the 15 tribes that own 22 casinos.

“Yes, there’s an impact because of the economic slowdown, but we’re holding our own.”

Arizona tribes do not publicly disclose detailed quarterly reports on their gambling revenue, but other experts agree that growth has slowed.

“People have less discretionary money to spend, especially on slot machines,” said Gary Anders, economics professor at the School of Global Management and Leadership at Arizona State University.

Anders, who closely follows the Indian gambling industry, said Arizona casinos, unlike those in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J., are being hit especially hard because their players mostly live within driving distance of the gambling rooms.

“Las Vegas can make up for some of its gambling revenue losses through its resorts and restaurants. It’s both a destination and entertainment location,” said Anders. “And while some Arizona casinos have resorts and hotels, too, they’re not making as much to offset the reduction in gambling revenues.”

Anders said the casinos are offering a variety of enticements to visitors and gamblers such as higher-paying odds, new games, coupons and reduced room rates.

One of them, Casino Arizona on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community at Loop 101 and McKellips Road, has added new games to attract players.

“Our goal at Casino Arizona is to keep our guests excited about the games and amenities we offer,” said David Vandiver, director of slot operations. “We do this by constantly adding to the gaming floor. These new games incorporate the latest technology to some of our guests’ favorite games.”

Calls by the Tribune to several other marketing departments at Arizona casinos were not returned.

Morago said some of the potential gambling revenue losses in the next quarter may be offset by profits from visitors who stayed at the casino hotels during the Fiesta Bowl in January and the Super Bowl in February.

Annual reports filed at the Arizona Department of Gaming show a steady rise in revenue statewide on a year-over-year basis. Last year, gross revenue for all casinos, including resorts, restaurant and other sources of income, reached $1.94 billion compared with $1.79 billion in 2006 and $1.49 billion in 2005.

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