Tribal gaming revenues hit a record $34.6B in fiscal 2019, well before COVID-19 rocked the industry

December 10, 2020 12:37 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
December 10, 2020 12:37 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Tribal gaming revenues nationwide topped more than $34.6 billion in fiscal year 2019, an increase of 2.5% over 2018, according to a statement from the National Indian Gaming Commission in Washington D.C.

The total was the highest single-year figure in the 32 years since the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted and included results from 522 tribal casinos in 29 states, divided into eight geographic regions.

But it will take some time, most likely, for the overall single-year record total to be topped by the tribal casino industry.

Those figures were recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down nearly 1,000 tribal and commercial casinos in 43 states at the end of March.

NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said some of those Indian casino properties have yet to reopen and many were closed again as pandemic infections surged nationwide in recent weeks. Indian casinos are operating at reduced capacity levels and under health and safety guidelines.

“It is important to recognize the pandemic’s impact on tribes,” Simermeyer said. “Tribes’ dedication to a safe and sustainable Indian gaming industry is demonstrated in the preventative measures tribes continue to take during the challenging economic times brought on by the pandemic. This same dedication has fostered a successful and responsibly regulated Indian gaming industry over several decades.”

The tribal casino industry is generally somewhat secretive in reporting gaming revenues, since reservation lands in Indian Country are considered sovereign nations. The regional breakdown doesn’t include a state-by-state reporting structure.

Meanwhile, commercial casinos, which are governed by state regulatory agencies, provide state-by-state figures.  According to the American Gaming Association’s State of the States report, gaming revenue for 465 commercial casinos in 25 states topped $43.6 billion in 2019, up 3.7 percent from 2018.

As for tribal gaming, the Sacramento Region, which covers all of California and a handful of small locations designated as Indian casinos in Northern Nevada, had the single-largest revenue total – nearly $9.3 billion, or roughly 27% of the nation’s total Indian gaming market. The figure was a 4.3% increase over 2018.

The St. Paul region, which includes Midwest tribal casinos in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, was second only to Sacramento in total revenues: $4.9 billion, an increase of 2.6%.

The Oklahoma City region, which includes western Oklahoma and Texas, saw the largest percentage increase in 2019, 7.7% on revenues of nearly $2.7 billion. The Tulsa region, which includes eastern Oklahoma and Kansas, was relatively flat, at $2.47 billion. Oklahoma is considered the nation’s second-largest Indian gaming state behind California.

The Portland region, which includes the state of Washington’s tribal casino market, grew 4.1%, while the Phoenix region, which covers Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Southern Nevada, grew 4.3%.

“Healthy tribal economies are important to promoting the tribal self-sufficiency envisioned in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Simermeyer said. “The growth reflected in the 2019 gaming revenue demonstrates the strength of tribal economies in recent years. The Indian gaming industry is a vital component to many tribal economies across the country.”

Casinos in two Indian gaming states, New Mexico and Mississippi, offered sports betting during the 2019 fiscal year. Sports betting has since expanded into tribal casinos in Michigan and is expected to launch at Indian casinos in North Carolina and Washington in 2021.

The gaming revenue totals are calculated from audited financial statements submitted to the NIGC by 245 federally recognized tribes for their respective Fiscal Year 2019. A spokeswoman for the NIGC said a majority of the gaming operations have fiscal years ending either September 30 or December 31.

“While we welcome this positive report from fiscal year 2019, we know that the current reality is dramatically different,” said NIGC Vice-Chairperson Kathryn Isom-Clause. “Future reports will reflect the effects of the pandemic on the industry, as well as how it continues to adapt to changing circumstances. Despite these current hardships, Indian gaming, like the tribal nations it benefits, has proved its resiliency over the years.”

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.