Report: Bad month ends bad year for Nevada casino winnings

Wong Maye-E / AP

In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, people stand in front of electronic slot machines in a casino in Las Vegas.

December was a historically bad month for Nevada casinos at the end of a historically bad year, according to a Thursday state regulatory report on gambling activity and state revenues.

The state Gaming Control Board blamed the coronavirus pandemic for results showing that casino house winnings totaled $7.8 billion for 2020, down 34.6% from the previous year and the lowest for a calendar year since 1997.

The figure, which the board dubs “casino win,” came in at about $12 billion in 2019 and 2018.

“The reason for the decrease to this calendar year was the result of the suspension of gaming operations from March 18 through June 4 due to COVID-19,” the report said. “This 78-day closure had a significant impact on gaming win amounts.”

Monthly casino winnings of $683.7 million in December were down 35.4% compared with the same month in 2019 — marking the worst full month statewide since August 1997 and the worst full month for the Las Vegas Strip since December 1993, board senior analyst Michael Lawton said.

“December, although very weak in terms of gaming win, unfortunately was not a huge surprise,” Lawton said.

The state collected a little more than $30 million in percentage fees based on the December numbers, down about 40.4% from a year ago. A year ago, the figure topped $50.4 million.

State percentage fee revenues of $509 million for calendar year 2020 were down nearly 33%, according to a board report. The figure from 2019 was almost $757 million.

Business during December was hurt by the absence of events including the annual National Finals Rodeo, which was held instead in Arlington, Texas, Lawton said.

He also cited cancellation of New Year’s Eve fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip and casino capacity limits enacted by the state to limit crowds and the spread of COVID-19.

Nevada has 468 non-restricted gambling license holders like casinos, and 2,000 restricted licensees like bars, gas stations and supermarkets with 15 or fewer slot machines.

The report said gambling revenue decreased statewide in 2020, including Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Elko and rural areas.

The Las Vegas Strip recorded a total win of $3.7 billion for the year, down 43.3% from 2019.

Washoe County casinos tallied $676 million, a decrease of 21.1% and the lowest total since 1986.

Sports pool winnings of $262.8 million were down 20.2% on wagers totaling $4.3 billion, a decrease of 18.4%, according to the report, while slot machines generated almost 69% of casino winnings in 2020.

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