Racinos in black, but casinos bet on red

Posted May 19, 2009, at 8:01 p.m.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Revenue and jobs at the nation’s gambling halls fell last year as Americans became less willing to risk their money, according to a report by the national gambling industry’s trade association.

The study by the American Gaming Association found revenue nationwide was down 4.7 percent, and jobs fell slightly. But while the numbers were down for casinos, racinos, gambling halls affiliated with racetracks such as Bangor’s Hollywood Slots, have experienced growth.

“People are just taking shorter trips for fewer days and spending less,” said Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., the group’s president.

He said 60 percent of people who visited an American casino last year said they spent less while doing so.

But Fahrenkopf added, “There seems to be a feeling that things may have bottomed out with consumer spending. Maybe we’ve taken the worst of the hit.”

One-quarter of the adult U.S. population visited a casino in 2008.

The study released Monday said 2,620 fewer people were employed in commercial casinos last year than in 2007 — a drop of less than one-tenth of 1 percent to 357,000 employees in 2008.

But the study did not include job numbers for Nevada or Missouri after June, because both states track job data using a fiscal year starting in July. Major casinos in Nevada shed thousands of jobs during the second half of last year as the economy got worse on the Las Vegas Strip and elsewhere.

The study showed job cuts in Mississippi and New Jersey, but jobs added in Pennsylvania and Michigan because of new casinos.

The survey examined casino gambling in the United States from many angles. It found, for example, that Americans spent twice as much on cable television — $79.1 billion — as they did on casino gambling and only slightly more on gambling than they did on candy — $28 billion.

Illinois, 20.9 percent, and Colorado, 12.3 percent, experienced the largest revenue declines, due in part to smoking bans that took effect last year. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, saw its revenue soar by more than 48 percent last year, due to the continued growth of its racetrack slot parlors.

Racetrack casinos continue to be a growth area for the gambling industry with revenue increasing 17.2 percent to nearly $6.2 billion. There are now 44 “racinos” in 12 states with more on the way soon.

Bangor’s Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway, which is affiliated with the Bangor Historic Track at Bass Park, is one such racino.

The latest financial information from Hollywood Slots showed gross revenue of about $55 million for the month of April. That represented an increase of about $9 million over April 2008, although last year’s figures came from the Slots’ temporary facility, which had 500 slot machines.

Since the permanent Hollywood Slots racino, which has 1,000 slot machines, opened in July 2008, revenue peaked at $75 million monthly and dropped to a low of $44 million in December 2008. During the last four months, though, revenue has increased steadily.

The racetrack slots parlors employed more than 29,000 people last year, a 6.6 percent increase. Indiana’s two new racetrack slots parlors created the most new racino jobs last year, up 1,412 to more than 16,000 statewide. Pennsylvania’s racetrack slots added nearly 1,200 jobs last year, bringing the statewide total to nearly 5,000.

BDN staff writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

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