California fares worse than U.S.
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/06/2011 07:02:39 AM PST

For the first time, Indian gaming revenue showed a national decline in 2009, according to the annual Indian Gaming Industry Report by Casino City Press.

Nationwide, gaming revenue at Indian casinos declined 1 percent in 2009, and the $3.2 billion in non-gaming revenue – such as food and beverage sales, lodging and entertainment – declined 4 percent from 2008.

Although the economy played a central role in the slowdown, that alone does not explain declining growth in previous years. For example, the growth of gaming revenue declined from 15 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2006, 4 percent in 2007 and 1 percent in 2008.

This, the study suggests, is the result of public policies designed to restrict the supply of Indian gaming. These policies have included laws and regulations, as well as judicial decisions and tribal-state gaming compacts.

Revenue in California continued to slide in 2009, declining 5 percent, from about $7.3 billion in 2008 to $6.9 billion. But despite the continuing declines, California maintained the largest share of Indian gaming revenue, at about 26 percent of the national total, according to the report.

In addition, some Indian casinos expanded or were renovated, including the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon, which opened a new restaurant and relocated its bingo hall from a secondary facility to its main casino.

The Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians is planning to build another, smaller casino on its land, and the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians in San Jacinto is planning to replace its casino with a larger one.

San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino near Highland also saw a decline in revenue in 2009, but it wouldn’t disclose how much.

“We definitely saw a decrease in 2009. We felt it, and the rest of the world felt it,” said Steve Lengel, the executive director of operations for the casino.

To address the slump, the casino made a variety of special offers to

“It was more of just providing more offers so they got more value for their dollar,” Lengel said.

Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School and an expert on gambling law, attributed the decline in Indian gaming growth and revenue to the economy more than increasing policies and regulations in the industry.

He said Indian gaming is now a mature industry and that as states get more desperate for revenue and have more difficulty raising taxes, governments will push to tax legal gambling.

“I think the problem is mainly economic, particularly in California, where it was already a mature market and some of the bigger tribes were expanding their operations, then got hit, and they did that right when the economy turned down and money became tight,” Rose said.

The most obvious and startling example, Rose said, is the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation near San Diego.

The tribe spent several years and $6 million to negotiate a gaming compact with the state that would have allowed the tribe to expand its gaming operation from 2,000 to 5,000 slot machines and given it the option of building a second casino off reservation land.

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