Tribal gaming enjoyed a record-breaking year in fiscal year 2021, federal officials announced earlier this week. However, a deeper look at the data provided by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) showed a small number of operators reaped most of the benefits.
The country’s tribal casinos and other venues reported gross gaming revenues (GGR) of $39 billion for the fiscal year. That represented a 40% improvement over the $27.8 billion won in fiscal year 2020, which was affected severely by COVID-19. It also is a 13% jump from the 2019 fiscal year GGR.
“I’d like to state that, in general, Indian gaming is doing very well,” NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said in a video statement Wednesday announcing the results. “You have rebounded from the industry-wide challenges faced during the pandemic. If fiscal year 2021 has shown anything, it has demonstrated that Indian gaming is a resilient industry.”
COVID-19 still had an impact on the tribal gaming community. Simermeyer noted the country endured a record high number of closures.
43 Casinos Accounted for Majority of GGR
The commission noted the disparity that exists among tribal gaming entities.
For example, 8% of the tribes reported their gaming enterprises generated revenues of at least $250 million for the fiscal year. That’s compared to 55% that reported GGR of less than $25 million.
That top 8%, which equates to 43 operators, accounted for 52% of all tribal GGR last year, while the bottom 55% produced just 6%.
Tribes engage in gaming for a variety of reasons and have different ways to define an operations success,” Vice Chair Jeanne Hovland said. “Not all gaming operations saw as great of a rebound in revenues. Location, regional dynamics around competition, and other regional economic characteristics – like workforce and tourism opportunities – can all shape operators’ individual strategies and the pace of recovery.”
In fiscal year 2020, just 4% of operators reported revenues of $250 million or more. Those with GGR totals of less than $25 million accounted for 64% of the operators.
Some Regions Still Behind 2019 Totals
From a regional perspective, all eight of the commission’s regions reported at least a 28.3% increase from 2020. The Rapid City, SD region reported a 56% jump. The casinos in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming posted GGR totaling $372.6 million.
Sacramento once again was the most lucrative region, with the tribal venues in California and Northern Nevada generating $11.9 billion in revenues. The DC region, which encompasses all tribal gaming outlets in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and North Carolina, reported a total GGR of $8.1 billion.
To Hovland’s point about recovery, while five regions reported gains of at least 9.8% compared to 2019, three of the NIGC’s regions still have yet to return to pre-pandemic revenue levels.
The Rapid City region was down 1.1% from its 2019 total. Casinos in the St. Paul region, which includes Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, generated $4.8 billion last year. That’s down $135 million, or 2.7%, from its 2019 total.
In the Phoenix region, which covers Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Southern Nevada, the $3.2 billion in GGR for 2021 was nearly $58 million less than its 2019 tally.
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