Government

Casino revenue tops $1.46 billion in Iowa

Slight increase comes despite attendance drop

Stacks of chips are on hand at the roulette table at Riverside Casino on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.  (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Stacks of chips are on hand at the roulette table at Riverside Casino on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — State-licensed casinos in Iowa saw a slight upward bump in their revenue numbers even though attendance lagged during the 2018 fiscal year due to weather and economic factors that impacted the gaming entertainment venues, officials said Wednesday.

In total, 19 casinos licensed by the commission took in nearly $1.464 billion for the 12 months that ended June 30. That’s less than a one percent increase of more than $10.9 million in gross adjusted revenue over the previous year, but still below the record of nearly $1.47 billion in fiscal 2012.

“We’re stable, we’re strong and we’re mature,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the state-licensed casinos.

Max Freund / The Gazette

Overall, Brian Ohorilko, administrator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said he was “encouraged” by the gaming industry’s fiscal 2018 performance but noted the casino operators are concerned about a 1.1 million decline in patrons passing through their turnstiles compared to the prior year’s attendance of 21.8 million visitors. All but one casino posted a higher per capita “win” with a statewide average increasing from $67 each of the past two fiscal years to $71 in fiscal 2018, according to the commission’s yearly report.

“I think fiscal 2018 was an encouraging year for a number of the operators and, even though revenues were essentially flat with a slight increase, I think what was encouraging is we saw more facilities demonstrate growth and that had not been the case in the past few years,” said Ohorilko. “There are just as many facilities that demonstrated growth in revenue as facilities that had not and so that had not been the case in the past few years. I think that definitely is a good sign in terms of stability and the market in Iowa being strong, predictable and consistent.”

In all, nine casinos posted higher revenue numbers last fiscal year while 10 reported declines. Altoona-based Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino topped $201 million in adjusted gross receipts that gained over $11 million compared to the previous year, while the Isle of Capri in Bettendorf saw a sizable drop topping $7 million in a shifting Quad Cities market. Casinos in Davenport, Council Bluffs, Sioux City and Dubuque also posted gains.

Max Freund / The Gazette

Unlike previous years, there was no construction or major capital improvements that might have skewed the comparisons, Ohorilko said, meaning the fiscal 2018 report “really is a true year-over-year picture and I think demonstrates the continued stability in the Iowa gaming market.”

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Ehrecke said inclement and unseasonably cold weather in March and April had a negative impact on some of the admissions as Iowans stayed home rather the brave the elements to take in the casinos’ entertainment venues and amenities.

“When people don’t go out on those weekends,” he said, “that can have an impact on your overall attendance and it’s difficult to get that back.”

Perhaps the best prospect Iowa casinos have for attracting new patrons and expanding their demographic base is the recent court decision allowing states to adopt legal sports wagering, — an option Ehrecke says his association’s members will push the Iowa Legislature to enact during the 2019 session.

“We intend as an industry to request a bill to legalize sports betting to be introduced and hopefully to get passed,” said Ehrecke. Offering sports wagering via state-regulated casinos would “certainly help” generate more visits, he said, adding “to what extent is unknown in the first year but we’re optimistic that will be a great addition to what can be offered that a lot of people are wanting to have.”

Ohorilko said the commission is neutral on the sports wagering issue but is monitoring what is happening in other states and assessing what rules and regulators would be needed should policymakers decide to expand gambling opportunities the state would oversee.

Wagering at Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos, which were launched under the 1989 riverboat gambling law, generated over $291.8 million in tax revenue this past fiscal year that was used to retire state debt and fund infrastructure, Vision Iowa and skilled worker projects and programs. Cities and counties received $7 million and nonprofit organizations holding the state gaming licenses received $41 million during the 2017 calendar year, Ohorilko said.

The eight-page fiscal 2018 state casino gambling report can be found at the https://irgc.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2018/07/fytd2018.pdf Web address.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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