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Northern Nevada One Of Few Bright Spots In Dismal Gaming Revenue Report

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Nevada gaming revenues were down 22.4 percent in September.
  • It was the seventh straight month with a revenue decline.
  • Many jurisdictions in Northern Nevada showed positive revenue numbers while Southern Nevada continued to languish.

Nevada’s gaming industry continues to suffer as COVID-19 batters the consumer economy and makes travel–particularly international travel–problematic. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has just released revenue numbers for September and while it might not be the ‘gloom and doom’ of April and May’s 99%+ decline it’s still not good. Unfortunately, there’s not much that Silver State gaming properties can do to improve the situation–that will require some positive developments in the worldwide battle against COVID-19.

Statewide gaming win was off 22.4% in September to $821.1 million. Southern Nevada was especially hard hit with the areas of the resort corridor with more exposure to national and international travel taking the biggest blow. Clark County gaming revenues dropped 26.9% to $666.7 million with the Las Vegas Strip off 39.1% to $354.7 million and downtown off 21.5% to $51.8 million. Not all the news was bad in Southern Nevada–the Boulder Strip eked out a small profit with a 1.82% increase over September 2019. The border town of Mesquite experienced a 11.45% increase over the previous year while ‘Balance of County’ (mostly unincorporated Clark County) was up 2.28%.

Longtime residents know full well that Northern Nevada is a different world from Southern Nevada and that was evident in September gaming numbers. Washoe County experienced a 3.39% revenue increase to $78.8 million from a year ago and most subsets of Northern Nevada’s most populous county also finished ‘in the black’. Reno–the largest city in Washoe County–was up 3.1% to $57.1 million. Sparks is home to a small but thriving casino scene led by the Nugget Casino Resort (known for most of its history as John Ascuaga’s Nugget and before that Dick Graves’ Nugget) and it was up 7.07% to $12.3 million. The ‘Balance of County’ in Washoe County was up 4.10% and is actually up 8.62% for the 2020 fiscal year to date. I’ll have to dig into the numbers more deeply and see what the deal is with that.

The Lake Tahoe area was a decidedly mixed bag. North Lake Tahoe was down -8.77% but South Lake Tahoe was up 36.32%. To some extent these trends predate the COVID-19 pandemic–North Lake Tahoe’s casino selection pales dramatically in comparison to South Lake Tahoe’s offerings. Here’s how one locals website explained South Tahoe in contrast to the ‘mountain/outdoor lifestyle of North Tahoe:

Simply put, South Lake Tahoe is the Las Vegas of Lake Tahoe. This is where casinos, nightlife, late-night food and boisterous vacationing is at its prime. South Lake Tahoe is robust in casino options, making the action outstanding. This buzz is not only in the evening, though. The action tends to be happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the morning people use the richness of trail options or the easy access to the mountains via Heavenly to enjoy the outdoors. The later hours of the day are spent enjoying the finer things in life, from trendy bars and gourmet restaurants to dive bars and hoppin’ night clubs. South Lake Tahoe is also where life has stepped back slightly from mountain living and has brought in a little culture into life with their festivals like Valhalla Arts and the Music and Theatre Festival.

So the fact that the South Lake Tahoe casinos did better than the North Lake Tahoe casinos isn’t surprising. What is more interesting is just how well they did:

South Lake Tahoe, where Caesars Entertainment currently operates three of the four major casino properties, reported revenues of $24.8 million, compared to $18.2 million a year ago. (Nevada Gaming Control Board senior research analyst Michael) Lawton said a 40.9% increase in slot machine revenues was one factor, but table game revenues also jump 22.6%, which included an 83.4% increase in blackjack revenues.

Elko County was off -7.92% overall. Wendover (right over the border from Utah) was down -10.70% and the ‘Balance of the County’ was off -1.96%. Since Utah has become one of the major hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks over the past month or so the double digit decline in Wendover isn’t surprising. The majority of business in Wendover comes from the Salt Lake City metro area.

The Carson Valley–Carson City, Minden, Gardnerville and other areas of Douglas County with the exception of Stateline (South Lake Tahoe)–had a fractional increase of 0.83 percent in September.

Sports betting was extremely strong in the month of September with a total handle of $575.2 million. This represents the fourth highest monthly total in Nevada history (at least dating back to 1992 when the state began releasing more detailed revenue figures) and the highest total ever for September. This is partially due to the schedule changes throughout sports necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic but also reflects the reality that sports betting is the strongest growth area in North American gaming. We’ll delve deeper into the sports betting numbers for September in a subsequent article.

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