The 2019 fiscal year was another record-breaking one for Indian gaming.
The National Indian Gaming Commission reported this week that tribal casinos saw record high revenues in the 2019 fiscal year, with gross gaming revenue (GGR) figures reaching an industry-record $34.6 billion. That was an increase of 2.5% over 2018’s $33.7 billion.
Reporting for 2019 ended before the coronavirus pandemic forced the temporary closure of every tribal gaming operation across the nation.
Revenues are determined by 522 casinos submitting independently audited financial reports, comprised of 245 federally recognized tribes across 29 states, according to a news release. The GGR for an operation is calculated based on the amount wagered minus winnings returned to bettors.
Nearly every NIGC region experienced growth, the release said, with the Oklahoma City region seeing the largest increase of 7.7%.
“Heathy tribal economies are important to promoting the tribal self-sufficiency envisioned in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The growth reflected in the 2019 gaming revenue demonstrates the strength of tribal economies in recent years,” NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said in the release. “The Indian gaming industry is a vital component to many tribal economies across the country.”
For example, Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes contributed $30.5 million in casino gaming revenue to local government and schools in 2019, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
Though the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to be realized, many Indian gaming operations remain closed or operate at reduced capacity, the release said. Some Indian gaming operations have been closed since March 2020 and COVID-19's impact will be reflected in the Fiscal Year 2020 GGR report.
“It is important to recognize the pandemic’s impact on tribes,” Simermeyer said. “Tribes’ dedication to a safe and sustainable Indian gaming industry is demonstrated in the preventative measures Tribes continue to take during the challenging economic times brought on by the pandemic. This same dedication has fostered a successful and responsibly regulated Indian gaming industry over several decades.”
At one point in the spring, the coronavirus outbreak and measures to curb its spread led to every U.S. casino, including tribal casinos, shutting down for some time.
“While we welcome this positive report from FY2019, we know that the current reality is dramatically different. Future reports will reflect the effects of the pandemic on the industry, as well as how it continues to adapt to changing circumstances,” NIGC Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Clause said in the release. “Despite these current hardships, Indian gaming, like the tribal nations it benefits, has proved its resiliency over the years.”