Native American Casinos Win Record $34.6B in 2019 Fiscal Year, But There Will Be No Celebrating

Posted on: December 10, 2020, 07:55h. 

Last updated on: December 10, 2020, 11:21h.

Indigenous casinos won a record $34.6 billion during the 2019 fiscal year. But tribes say the COVID-19 pandemic has negated a celebration.

Native American casino tribal gaming
Native American casinos, such as Native Lights in Oklahoma, were busy during the 2019 fiscal year. (Image: Native Lights Casino)

The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) released gross gaming revenue numbers for FY19, which ran from Oct 1, 2018, through Sept 30, 2019. The report is a culmination of 522 independently audited financial statements submitted to the NIGC from 245 federally recognized tribes across 29 states that operate gaming.

The record haul in 2019 of $34.6 billion represents a 2.5 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year. Nearly every NIGC region experienced growth in 2019. The Oklahoma City market leading the way with a 7.7 percent year-over-year jump.

“The Indian gaming industry is a vital component to many tribal economies across the country,” NIGC Chair E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said.

Pandemic Pauses Celebration

Native Americans are fresh off their best gaming year in their long histories. But any such merriment that arose from the 2019 fiscal year has been subdued by COVID-19. The 2019 report concluded just as the coronavirus began spreading in China.

The virus made its way into the US around the start of the 2020 new year and spread rapidly in February and March. The pandemic led to every commercial casino closing, as well as nearly every tribal gaming venue.

The 2020 fiscal year will certainly be a substantial retraction from 2019’s record performance.

While we welcome this positive report from FY2019, we know that the current reality is dramatically different,” said NIGC Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Clause. “Future reports will reflect the effects of the pandemic on the industry, as well as how it continues to adapt to changing circumstances.

“Despite these current hardships, Indian gaming, like the tribal nations it benefits, has proved its resiliency over the years,” Isom-Clause declared.

Economic Damage

According to Meister Economic Consulting, a research firm focused on tribal gaming, the pandemic has put nearly 300,000 people out of work. It also cost workers nearly $1 billion in wages.

Closures and reduced operations, such as self-imposed capacity limits on Indian gaming floors, resulted in $4.4 billion in lost economic activity, the firm says. That includes $1.5 billion in lost gaming revenue.

Meister explains that some of the lost wages were offset by tribal casinos that continued to pay their workers during furloughs. The federal government’s CARES Act additionally provided $8 billion worth of financial assistance for Native American communities.

Being sovereign nations, tribal casinos are not required under law to adhere to state restrictions or shutdown orders. However, every large tribal casino closed at some point this year in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Simermeyer said that demonstrates that Native Americans are dedicated to a “safe and sustainable Indian gaming industry.”