Saturday, January 22, 2000

Casino boats rolling in the dough

Gambling revenue higher than ever

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Indiana's nine riverboat casinos continued their winning streak last year, drawing more customers and raking in more taxable income than ever before.

        Argosy Casino Lawrenceburg led the game, selling 7.3 million admission tickets and collecting $308.3 million from its patrons in 1999, according to figures released Thursday by the Indiana Gaming Commission.

        It can continue to claim the title of world's most popular riverboat casino. The state overall , collected $425.7 million in gaming revenue and admissions taxes from its five Lake Michigan riverboats plus four that cruise the Ohio River. The industry cash flow grew about 16 percent over the year, topping $1.5 billion.

        The money poured into mental health agencies, which provide problem gambling counseling; road construction and teachers' pension funds; and other government coffers. Host counties and cities were also counting casino cash.

        And the Indiana Gambling Impact Study Commission turned in its final report in December without finding significant increases in crime, gambling addiction or other social ills — though members cautioned that it could be too soon to see those problems around the young industry.

        Analysts said there is no reason to expect the growth streak to end. In fact, it should spike again late this summer when the state's final licensed casino opens in Switzerland County, about an hour's drive southwest of Cincinnati along the Ohio River.

        “I think there's plenty of demand for the new boat to do well,” said Joseph Coccimiglio, senior gaming analyst with New York-based Prudential Securities.

        Once the market stretches to accommodate the Belterra Resort and Casino, growth may slow to the single digits, but it should continue, Mr. Coccimiglio said. Even a downturn in the nation's booming economy isn't expected to have drastic im pacts on the riverboat casinos.

        “I don't think the gaming dollars in riverboat markets will be as cyclical as a luxury item. For most people, it remains a modest form of entertainment,” Mr. Coccimiglio said.

        Added competition in southeastern Indiana is having mixed impacts on the riverboats, but the amount of money being spent on gambling statewide continues to climb — with more than half of it coming from neighboring states including Ohio and Kentucky.

        Grand Victoria Resort and Casino sold 3.24 admission tickets and took $144.3 million from its customers last year, despite the opening of Caesars Indiana's Glory of Rome downriver in Bridgeport. That boat registered 4.25 million admissions and $157.2 million in gross revenue.

        Argosy General Manager Arnold Block said he was relieved that Caesars' opening near Louisville seemed to expand the market, rather than steal customers from other boats. “I would say that (Caesars) did not affect us to any large degree,” he said. Competition will hit closer to home when Belterra opens in Switzerland County, since that boat will count Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky as its primary markets.

        “I definitely think that will affect us,” Mr. Block said. “But there's not any good way we have to forecast that impact.”

        Argosy and other nearby casinos will have to continue to communicate with existing customers, improve services, and advertise more, he said.

        Indiana's nine riverboat casinos continued their winning streak in 1999. More cruises were taken on the boats — and more money lost — last year than ever before. Here are the 1999 results for southeastern Indiana's riverboats — Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, the most successful in the state; Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun; and Caesars Indiana in Bridgeport.

        Number of admissions sold:

• Argosy: 7.3 million.

        • Grand Victoria: 3.24 million.

        • Caesars: 4.25 million.

        • Statewide total: 38.49 million.

        Total taxes they paid to the state:

• Argosy: $83.6 million.

        • Grand Victoria: $38.7 million.

        • Caesars: $44.2 million.

        • Statewide total: $425.7 million.

        Amount of money lost by customers:

• Argosy: $308.3 million.

        • Grand Victoria: $144.3 million.

        • Caesars: $157.2 million.

        • Statewide total: $1.56 billion.

        Source: Indiana Gaming Commission


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