A Period of Adjustment
Oops! That giant hissing sound is the gaming balloon that had been growing over the years, slowly losing air. But, it has not been a tide that lowered all ships however, as some emerging and expanding gaming jurisdictions showed strong growth in 2008.
Overall, the commercial and racetrack casino sectors (excluding Indian gaming), experienced a 3.5 percent decline in gaming revenues for 2008, generating a total of $36.2 billion, down some $800 million from 2007. It was the Racino sector that has tempered this drop, as they showed a gain of almost $1 billion in 2008, thereby bringing the Commercial sector market decline to $1.8 billion, or 6.7 percent. Nevada was the biggest loser in 2008, dropping almost $1.3 billion, more than half of which stemmed from the Las Vegas Strip segment.
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For the most part, casino operators were caught relatively flat-footed by the extent of the 2008 revenue downturn, as it was not until the third and fourth quarters when it really nosedived. Riding the crest of year over year market growth across the country and the availability of ample credit and equity funds, new construction and expansion proliferated in recent years. Today, faced with the realities of declining, or at best stagnant demand, many of these projects are now considered over-leveraged and/or over-sized. As a result many gaming companies are attempting to renegotiate their debt – made more difficult by lower valuations – while also paring down operational costs. The latter has become a very problematic conundrum when dealing with the competition, especially in those jurisdictions that are now vying for market shares with new emerging casino projects in neighboring areas. A topic we discuss more fully in the State by State analysis section of this publication.
As a result of these conditions the gaming industry landscape is now strewn with impending fatalities. Among the more notable troubled firms are Station Casinos, Empire Resorts, Harrah’s Entertainment, Greektown Holdings, Legends Gaming, Tropicana Entertainment, Herbst Gaming; and the list grows each week.
“How long will these economic conditions persist, and are we at the bottom yet?” are questions no one appears to be answering yet. What is clear however is that most gaming jurisdictions will have to learn how to deal with a smaller pie.
This analysis includes only gaming revenues of licensed casinos and pari-mutuel outlets that offer casino games, and not Indian gaming operations, card rooms, or small non-casino type slot locations. The whole article, including revenue tables is available on our web page.
A key aspect that seems to have arisen from the ashes of this current trend is that many casino projects were just too large to support themselves. The input, in terms of investment dollars, was not proportional to the output, in terms of net profit after debt service, compared to previously achieved results. More and/or bigger is not always better. Seeing the rise in non-gaming revenue at the Las Vegas Strip resorts, gave impetus to the development of more comprehensive amenities in many other jurisdictions. The flaw in this strategy however is that the costs associated with widening market penetration and occasioned-use, are significantly higher than those incurred to attract the base market.
As daytripper markets become more competitive, casino venues will have to rely more and more on their in-house hotel patrons, and size their properties (and expectations) accordingly. While Steve Wynn started a major trend in creating up-market mega-destinations, there simply was not enough demand on the Strip to warrant the many other similar projects that followed that aimed at the same niche.
The trick is to strike a happy medium in project configurations; which of course require less of a ‘seat-of-pants’ approach, and one that is more studied. A shameless plug for development consultants like ourselves.