N.J. sees biggest gaming decline; Pa. sees biggest increase

The middle of the gaming floor at Parx Casino in Bensalem. The current, larger version opened late last year.

National gross gambling revenues fell to $30.7 billion in 2009, a decrease of 5.5 percent from 2008 - and marked the second consecutive year of declining casino revenues due to the recession and consumers' cutting back on discretionary and leisure spending.

The findings were part of the 2010 edition of State of the States: The American Gaming Association Survey of Casino Entertainment, which was released earlier Thursday.

New Jersey - with its 11 casinos in Atlantic City - saw the largest decrease in both gaming revenue (minus-13.3 percent) and tax revenue (down 18.6 percent) due to the weak economy and increased competition, mainly from Pennsylvania casinos.

Pennsylvania reported the largest revenue increase among the 13 states with commercial casinos - up 21.6 percent - as it continued to expand its industry and added two casinos last year - the Sands Resort Casino in Bethlehem and the Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh's waterfront.

"This past year was tough for all Americans, and it was tough for our business, as well," said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and CEO of the AGA. "Nearly every industry that depends on consumer spending to succeed has been negatively impacted by the recession."

Fahrenkopf said the gambling industry was no exception, and today's report again confirmed that the industry was no longer immune to a recession, especially one lasting as long as the current downturn.

Pennsylvania was one of the four states with commercial casinos that saw their gambling and tax revenues increase last year. It was also one of only three states to report an increase in employment at its racetrack casinos: up 17.2 percent from a year earlier.

New Jersey, on the other hand, saw a 5.7 percent decrease in employment at its casinos. The state went from having 38,585 casinos workers in 2008 to 36,377 last year.

Fahrenkopf said no other U.S. gambling market saw its fortunes slide as drastically as did Atlantic City last year. The seaside gambling mecca has struggled since Pennsylvania opened its first casino in November 2006. Most day trip customers from Pennsylvania, particularly those who commuted from the Philadelphia suburbs to Atlantic City, are now choosing to gamble closer to home.

One of those places is Parx Casino in Bensalem, the top grossing casino in Pennsylvania, which last month took in $35.3 million, up 13.3 percent from April 2009.

"There is the need for Atlantic City [casino operators] to revitalize their product, to take advantage of the beach, redo their hotel rooms, provide more shows, and better their restaurants," Fahrenkopf said during a conference call today with gaming reporters from throughout the country. "Atlantic City is really the victim of bad luck.

"There were so many projects in the pipeline there, and then the economy and the other [gaming] markets all went south," he said. "Timing could not be worse."

The annual State of the States report is put together by the Washington-based AGA and provides national and state-by-state economic impact data, including gaming revenues, tax contributions, employment and wage figures for the 13 commercial casino and 12 racetrack casino states in the United States. It also provides public-opinion polling results on a variety of gaming issues.


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.