Casinos A Gamble

Casinos owned by Native American tribes in California, Oregon and Washington are thriving while the Nevada contingent isn’t doing so hot –  but almost all casinos, including tribal properties, are feeling the recession.

Since the Thunder Valley casino opened in 2003 near Lincoln, Calif., members of the United Auburn Indian Community have moved out of poverty and into upscale housing, opening a pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade school and providing health care coverage.

Nevada gambling experts estimate the Thunder Valley casino racks up $500 million to $600 million annually.
Since California tribal gambling was approved, northern Nevada’s casinos have felt the pinch as some have opted for gambling closer to home.

In early December, Fitzgeralds Hotel Casino in downtown Reno was forced to close its doors and say goodbye to its 475 employees as the Red Hawk Casino near Placerville in northern California prepared for its grand opening Dec. 17.

Analysts say that while the Mewalk Tribal casino could help expand the northern California market, it will also take profits away from Thunder Valley casino and others as well as threaten the Lake Tahoe market.

Like casinos in Reno, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the recession has hit home with tribal properties, including those in California.

“They are seeing slowing gaming growth,” said Dennis Conrad, president of Raving Consulting Co. of Reno. “There are markets that are staying pretty vibrant, but California is slowing down.”

The recession aside, industry experts say tribal gaming revenue could soon exceed profits of the 12 commercial gambling states.

“For a number of years now, tribal gaming revenues have been growing faster than the commercial side of gaming,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association.

Fahrenkopf said last year tribal gambling profits were at more than $26 billion and commercial gambling totaled revenue of $34 billion.

The Navajo Nation opened its first casino in November with the Fire Rock Casino near Gallup, N.M.

The casino is expected to bring in $32 million in annual profit.

In Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe and the Tigua tribe of El Paso are trying to get an Indian casino bill passed when lawmakers meet again in January. Both tribes had their casinos closed in 2002 by court orders and are hoping to get the bill past Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who says, according to his spokeswoman, that he doesn’t want to expand “the footprint of gambling” in Texas.

The Tigua tribe’s Speaking Rock casino was open for nine years and brought in $60 million annually. The Alabama-Coushatta casino was shuttered after only nine months. During that time the casino had profits of $1 million per month.