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February 17, 2019

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Baccarat blues: How one game is affecting Las Vegas casino revenue

Las Vegas Strip Exteriors

Mikayla Whitmore

The Strip as seen from Rivea on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, at Delano Las Vegas.

The release of Nevada’s latest gaming revenue figures this week indicated that state casinos performed very well in February — and over the last several months, in fact.

Statewide, February gaming revenue rose more than 8 percent compared to the year before, with every individual casino market in the state reporting increases as casinos benefited from a popular Super Bowl and an extra day due to the leap year. But February wasn’t an anomaly: Right now, it looks more like an indicator of what has so far been a strong fiscal year for Nevada casinos.

Gaming revenue in nearly every casino market in the state, including all of Clark and Washoe counties, is up for the fiscal year, which began July 1.

“That’s not just a short window — that’s a pretty good little stretch there,” said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board. “Everyone’s in positive territory.”

Lawton attributed the good statewide performance in part to improving real estate markets, lower unemployment and affordable fuel prices.

Of all the individual casino markets, downtown Las Vegas has had the most favorable year-over-year casino performance, with gaming revenue there up more than 9 percent for the fiscal year so far. On the other hand, gaming revenue on the Las Vegas Strip, by far the state’s largest casino market, has been basically flat over the same time period.

So what gives?

Baccarat is one important factor.

The extremely volatile table game favored by certain high-rollers was once a cash cow for Strip casinos as they sought to climb back from the depths of the Great Recession. But anti-corruption measures in China have hurt high-end gambling there, contributing to more than a year and a half of monthly gaming revenue decreases in Macau. And that, in turn, appears to have had a spillover effect on Las Vegas.

Consider that, over the last 12 months, the Strip’s baccarat revenue has only been higher than the previous year’s four times.

And over the course of the current fiscal year so far, baccarat revenue on the Strip has fallen 9.1 percent. But revenue only encompasses the amount actually won by casinos — baccarat volume, the amount wagered by gamblers, has dropped 15.1 percent over that period, according to Lawton.

Without baccarat, the Strip’s gaming revenue is up 3.23 percent for the fiscal year, per figures provided by Lawton. That puts it more in line with the casino markets in the rest of the state, where slots are more dominant and baccarat is virtually nonexistent.

Slot machines, by comparison, have done much better over the last year on the Strip. Slot revenue has been higher than the previous year in eight of the last 12 months, control board data shows.

“We have a baccarat decline, but look at what else is happening,” Lawton said. “The rest of the market has been improving. And not just all the other regional markets, but within the Las Vegas Strip, other things are performing well. Slots, non baccarat table games, sports pools, — that’s been able to overcome what we’ve been experiencing at the baccarat tables.”

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