Making the News

Allentown Morning Call

Originally Published:Friday, March 6, 2009,0,4991056.story

PA casinos luck out during recession
Gaming revenues grew from a year ago despite tough times

By Matt Birkbeck
Allentown Morning Call

The ailing economy may be playing havoc with the gambling meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but it hasn't slowed Pennsylvania's slot machine casinos, which saw February's revenues rise 14 percent over the same month last year.

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, five of the six casinos that were operating a year ago each had revenue increases last month, generating a combined $126 million in gross revenues compared with $110 million in February 2008.

The biggest increases came at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near Wilkes-Barre, which saw a 43.5 percent hike to $17.8 million, and Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos, which took in $15.2 million, 31.5 percent more than the previous year.
The Meadows near Pittsburgh earned $20.5 million, up 20 percent, Presque Isle Downs and Casino near Erie brought in $13.9 million, up 15 percent, and Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack in Bucks County took in $30.4 million, up 6 percent.

'' Atlantic City and Las Vegas are getting pounded, but Pennsylvania remains one of the few bright spots in the industry,'' said Joe Weinert, a senior vice president with Spectrum Gaming Group in New Jersey.

Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack in Delaware County saw a decrease of nearly 2 percent to $27.9 million.

Doug Harbach, a gaming board spokesman, said the increases were ''significant'' and serve as a testament to improved marketing by the casinos as well as gamblers' affinity for visiting casinos near their homes.

''They've been refining their efforts on what customers they are trying to reach,'' Harbach said. ''I still think in this economy people are watching their travel expenses. I think the travel distance is manageable for individuals, and they are finding this form of entertainment something they can still budget.''

Weinert added that gaming had been recession-proof for decades but is now suffering from the continuing economic decline.

Gross revenues in Atlantic City for the 12 months ending Jan. 31 were down almost 8 percent. For the three months ending Jan. 31, they were down 12 percent.

Las Vegas had its worst-ever decline in December, with revenues down 23 percent. For 2008, Las Vegas revenues were down 10 percent.

But Pennsylvania, Weinert said, is still in ''growth'' mode.

''The first three years for new casinos are a ramp-up period before they get into a more stabilized mode,'' he said. ''[Pennsylvania's] casinos are still expanding their databases, improving their facilities and getting to know their customers.

''We believe the economy has taken away some of that growth. Still, these numbers are very encouraging for the state.''

Slot machine revenues are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania, which gave the state more than $80 million in February. Helping the revenue surge was Mohegan Sun's conversion from a temporary casino to a larger, permanent facility with 500 more slot machines, Harbach said.

A seventh casino, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, did not open until mid-February 2008 and was not included in the tally.

The gaming board is preparing to oversee the opening of two more casinos this year, the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem on May 22 and the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in August.

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