Casino business booms in 2021, but Louisiana lags behind | Business

While 2021 set a national record for casino revenues, Louisiana’s state-regulated gambling halls brought in less money last year than they did pre-pandemic.

The 19 riverboats, racinos and Harrah’s land-based casino brought in $2.38 billion during 2021, a 43.5% increase over the COVID-marred 2020, but down 3.2% from 2019.

The decrease in revenue compared with 2019 was blamed on the impact of hurricanes, according to the American Gaming Association. In August 2020, Hurricane Laura unmoored the gambling barge at the Isle of Capri Lake Charles and significantly damaged the land-based facility the casino was in the process of moving into. The casino has been closed since then.

Hurricane Ida shut down New Orleans- and Baton Rouge-area casinos for several days in August and September.

Along with the Isle of Capri being temporarily closed, DiamondJacks in Bossier City wasn’t open at all in 2021. The struggling property announced in May 2020 it would not reopen after being closed because of the pandemic. But while the Isle is on track to reopen by the end of the year as Horseshoe Casino Lake Charles, the future of DiamondJacks is unknown. An attempt to move the casino was roundly defeated by St. Tammany Parish voters.

Matt Roob, senior vice president of analysis for Spectrum Gaming Group, which analyzed the state’s gambling market for Louisiana Economic Development in 2019, said other factors could have caused the drop in casino winnings from pre-pandemic levels.

For one, video poker winnings, which are not counted in the gambling association report, shot up more than $200 million from 2019 to 2021, an increase of 34.5%. Video poker machines brought in $839.2 million in 2021, compared with $623.8 million.

The increase happened despite the number of video poker devices dropping from 12,903 at the end of 2019 to 12,072 at the end of 2021.

“People may be shifting their play and staying closer to home,” Roob said. “They may still be concerned about getting out in the pandemic world.”

The other factor in the drop in revenue could be the maturation of the Mississippi sports betting market, Roob said. Sportsbooks on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were relatively new in 2019, but by 2021, they were more established. Mississippi generated a record $65.9 million in sports betting revenue during 2021. The first sportsbooks in Louisiana regulated casinos didn’t open until Halloween 2021. 

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“People may have become accustomed to sports betting and moved their gambling over to Mississippi,” Roob said.

The gambling association issued its annual State of the States report last week, examining gambling’s performance across the country.

As previously reported, nationwide casino revenue set an all-time high in 2021 at $53.03 billion, up 21% from the previous best year, 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Commercial casinos paid a record $11.69 billion in direct gambling tax revenue to state and local governments in 2021. That’s an increase of 75% from 2020 and 15% from 2019. This does not include the billions more paid in income, sales and other taxes, the association said.

The report also ranked the largest markets in the U.S. in terms of revenue for 2021. Naturally, the Las Vegas Strip was the runaway leader, with $7.05 billion in revenue. Atlantic City, New Jersey, was second at $2.57 billion. In third and fourth place were two major metro areas that recently legalized sports betting: Chicago with $2.01 billion and Baltimore-Washington, D.C., at $2 billion. The 12 Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos brought in $1.61 billion in 2021.

The Gulf Coast casinos also set a revenue record in 2021, despite closures caused by Ida. The gambling association said the properties saw their winnings increase by more than 20% compared with 2019. That was the biggest growth of any casino market. The Tunica/Lula market had the second largest growth from pre-pandemic levels, increasing by more than 15%. The seven casinos brought in $1.09 billion, the best year for the market since 2013.

The group reported many states saw gamblers spending more in casinos while visiting them in lower numbers compared with pre-pandemic 2019.

The average age of a casino patron last year was 43½, compared to 49½ in 2019.

Americans bet $57.7 billion on sports last year, more than twice the amount from 2020. That generated $4.33 billion in revenue, an increase of nearly 180% over 2020.

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