Pennsylvanians gambled more in 2008

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Americans were gambling less in 2008 but Pennsylvanians were gambling more, as the growth of racetrack-casinos represented the primary growth trend for the gaming industry, said a national report released yesterday.

The American Gaming Association released its annual "State of the States" report, which showed casino revenues in Pennsylvania grew by 48.3 percent in 2008, far higher than that of any other commercial casino state. (The association does not track tribal casino revenue).

Casinos in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and Rhode Island all generated less revenue in 2008 than 2007, as part of an overall 4.7 percent decrease nationally, according to the report. The recession affected Americans' willingness to travel and spend on gambling, and new smoking bans in Colorado and Illinois added to the slide, the report said.

AGA President Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. called Pennsylvania's revenue growth "staggering" but noted it also is logical as a startup jurisdiction still with casinos opening or expanding.

The state also leads an industry and government trend favoring conversion of racetracks to racetrack casinos, or "racinos," because existing gambling locations are less likely to stir community opposition than new sites. The 44 racetrack casinos in 12 states brought in 17.2 percent more revenue last year than racinos did in 2007, the report said.

"One of the bright spots ... is what's happening in the racino business," Mr. Fahrenkopf said on a media conference call. "I would expect the next increase in gaming somewhere in the United States would probably be racinos in some jurisdictions."

He noted that Kentucky, Ohio and Massachusetts are among states considering legislation or election referenda in 2009 to legalize new gambling in response to revenue shortfalls.

Pennsylvania needs no new law to experience its own gambling expansion this year. The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opens in Eastern Pennsylvania this week, the Rivers Casino on the North Shore opens in August and The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County has seen a 50 percent revenue increase since opening an enlarged facility last month.

Pennsylvania is a rare state in allowing for both racetrack casinos like The Meadows and stand-alone sites like those in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem. Its $1.6 billion from slot machines in racetrack casinos last year was the most of any racino state. The Meadows also became the ninth-highest revenue producer among racetrack casinos nationally, with its machines earning $244 million.

With a relatively high tax rate of 55 percent on the casino industry in Pennsylvania, the state's $766.6 million take of the revenue was third in the nation among all casino states, behind Nevada and Indiana.

An opinion poll conducted for the AGA found that one of four adults in the country visited a casino last year and 81 percent view it as an acceptable form of entertainment, even if they don't go themselves.

Overall, Americans spent $32.54 billion in commercial casinos last year, down nearly 5 percent from the record year of 2007. Sixty percent of the casino patrons surveyed said the recession caused them to reduce their spending on the pastime, which the report said was similar to findings for other nonessential pursuits such as concerts, movies and dining out.


Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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