After three straight years of decline, California's Indian casinos are once again showing increased revenues, reflecting an improved economy, according to a new study.
The state's 68 tribal casinos registered a nearly 2 percent increase in revenues, from approximately $6.8 billion in 2010, to $6.9 billion in 2011, according to the latest figures, released today (Wednesday)in an annual survey of the industry.
That is still less than the record $7.8 billion for 2007, prior to the recession. But analysts are predicting continued growth, exceeding the previous high.
"I have a positive outlook it will. I can't say how many years it will take," said Alan Meister, an economist with Nathan Associates and author of Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report.
In Sonoma County, the Las Vegas-style gambling offered by Indian tribes will go to whole new level with the large casino set to open late this year, next to Rohnert Park.
The 3,000-slot, 320,000-square-foot facility under construction by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is expected to rake in $418 million in gambling revenue by its seventh year, according to projections in the state-tribal compact.
That's more than triple the $124 million revenue last reported in 2010 by River Rock, the only other Indian casino in Sonoma County.
The competition means both casinos will need to serve customers well and perhaps loosen up their slots, according to William Thompson, a gambling expert who teaches at University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
"Have great customer service," was the advice he offered Tuesday. "You have to have nice service and a nice place. You have to be very friendly, because the people coming in will have other places to compare."
He said the Rohnert Park casino, as well as River Rock near Geyserville, should consider matching the Las Vegas payout rate of 95 percent, meaning for every dollar the player wagers, 95 cents is paid out.
"They (gamblers) will give all the money to a casino, but they will have longer play time and feel better about the experience," he said.
Meister's report shows Indian casinos across the country rebounding, despite a sluggish economy. With some gains in gross domestic product, per capita disposable personal income and employment nationwide, Indian gambling revenue grew a little over 3 percent, to approximately $27.4 billion in 2011.
That almost matched the amount generated at commercial casinos.
Non-Indian casinos in 15 states also showed improved revenues in 2011, at almost 2 percent, for a total of $28.4 billion, according to the report.
But tribes have steadily gobbled up more of the casino market over the past decade. More than 240 Native American tribes operate over 341,000 machines and 7,700 table games in 460 casinos across 28 states, according to Meister.
California is the largest state in terms of Indian gambling revenues, just over 25 percent of the nationwide total.
Meister said that based on cumulative post-recession performance and anecdotal evidence from 2012, the short-term to mid-term future for Indian casinos looks good.
Gamblers will spend more as the economy improves. Tribes are remodelling, upgrading and expanding their facilities, according to his Indian Gaming Industry Report.
On the North Coast, the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake opened the Running Creek casino in May 2012. With 349 slots, it's Lake County's fourth casino.