Casino Gambling Data Shows Economic Conditions Are Better

Casino gambling is back to pre-recession levels in the U.S., according to a new report from the gaming industry. One in three Americans went to a casino last year, and those who opened their wallets wagered a total of $37 billion, about 5 percent more than the previous year.

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Here's a sign of economic recovery: Americans are gambling again. People apparently have enough money to throw some of it away. After a drop during the slowdown, casino revenues are up nationwide. In fact, up to pre-recession levels.

NPR's Nina Gregory reports.

NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: One in three Americans went to a casino last year, according to a new report from the American Gaming Association, a gambling industry trade group. And those who opened their wallets wagered a total of $37-billion, about five percent more than the previous year.

FRANK FAHRENKOPF: We seem to sense, and certainly the numbers would indicate, that consumer confidence is up and the economic turnaround may be solid enough for people to spend their discretionary income.

GREGORY: Frank Fahrenkopf is the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. The AGA puts the industry stats together. Their numbers show growth isn't just in happening in Nevada, because now, at least some of what happens in Vegas is also happening in other places.

FAHRENKOPF: Over the last couple of years, we've seen states like Pennsylvania not only add slots but table games. The same thing's been true in Delaware, same thing has been true in West Virginia.

GREGORY: Twenty-three states in all. Nevada's still number one, bringing in nearly a third of all gambling revenue. But number two; it's not New Jersey, where Atlantic City is. It's Pennsylvania.

Doug Harbach is the spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

DOUG HARBACH: Well, in Pennsylvania it's somewhat a matter of convenience. The casinos are located within a pretty short driving distance of much of the population.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Introducing a brand-new Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. You know we know how to play. And we're closer than you think.

GREGORY: So why drive to Atlantic City when you can ante up at the Sands in Bethlehem. Casino gambling has been legal in Pennsylvania for five years.

HARBACH: The goal was, is to try to retain revenue within our borders that was escaping and turning into tax revenue for other states and we've been very successful at that.

GREGORY: Last year, gambling brought in almost $1.5-billion in taxes for Pennsylvania. Of course, there are costs associated with gambling, but that's for another time. For now, the numbers are huge and the growth looks good, but as any player knows, winning streaks don't last forever. Just look at Atlantic City, says David Schwartz. He's the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

DAVID SCHWARTZ: What's happened in Atlantic City is that for a long time they had a regional monopoly. And then when Pennsylvania came online with casinos and New York ramped up their video lottery terminals at race tracks, that really hurt them. So they've really been suffering from more competition.

GREGORY: And that competition's not only happening at the slots. The Sands in Bethlehem, for example, also offers Emeril restaurants. Comedian Amy Schumer is performing at the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. The list of casino attractions is growing, says the AGA's Frank Fahrenkopf.

FAHRENKOPF: First class shows, shopping, Michelin star restaurants, great golf courses, tennis courts and other facilities.

GREGORY: And they're onto something because a quarter of people who went in to casinos last year, didn't even gamble.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

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