Tribal Gaming Operators Generate Record $39B in FY21, 43 Casinos Make 52% GGR

Posted on: August 12, 2022, 12:05h. 

Last updated on: August 12, 2022, 12:27h.

Tribal gaming enjoyed a record-breaking year in fiscal year 2021, federal officials announced earlier this week. However, a deeper look at the data provided by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) showed that few operators reaped most of the benefits.

National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer speaks during a Tuesday video presentation. The commission reported tribal gaming entities produced a record-setting $39 billion in gross gaming revenue for the 2021 fiscal year. (Image: NIGC/YouTube)

The country’s tribal casinos and other venues reported gross gaming revenues (GGR) of $39 billion for the fiscal year. That represented a 40% improvement over the $27.8 billion won in the fiscal year 2020, which was affected severely by COVID-19. It also is a 13% jump from the 2019 fiscal year GGR.

I’d like to state that, in general, Indian gaming is doing very well,” NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said in a video statement Wednesday announcing the results. “You have rebounded from the industry-wide challenges faced during the pandemic. If fiscal year 2021 has shown anything, it has demonstrated that Indian gaming is a resilient industry.”

COVID-19 still had an impact on the tribal gaming community. Simermeyer noted the country endured a record high number of closures.

43 Casinos Accounted for Majority of GGR

The commission noted the disparity that exists among tribal gaming entities. For example, 8% of the tribes reported their gaming enterprises generated revenues of at least $250 million for the fiscal year. That’s compared to 55% that reported a GGR of less than $25 million.

That top 8%, which equates to 43 operators, accounted for 52% of all tribal GGR last year, while the bottom 55% produced just 6%.

Tribes engage in gaming for a variety of reasons and have different ways to define an operations’ success,” Vice Chair Jeanne Hovland said. “Not all gaming operations saw as great of a rebound in revenues. Location, regional dynamics around competition, and other regional economic characteristics – like workforce and tourism opportunities – can all shape operators’ individual strategies and the pace of recovery.”

In fiscal year 2020, just 4% of operators reported revenues of $250 million or more. Those with GGR totals of less than $25 million accounted for 64% of the operators.

Some Regions Still Behind 2019 Totals

From a regional perspective, all eight of the commission’s regions reported at least a 28.3% increase from 2020. The Rapid City, SD region reported a 56% jump. The casinos in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming posted GGR totaling $372.6 million.

Sacramento once again was the most lucrative region, with the tribal venues in California and Northern Nevada generating $11.9 billion in revenues. The DC region, which encompasses all tribal gaming outlets in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and North Carolina, reported a total GGR of $8.1 billion.

To Hovland’s point about recovery, while five regions reported gains of at least 9.8% compared to 2019, three of the NIGC’s regions still have yet to return to pre-pandemic revenue levels.

The Rapid City region was down 1.1% from its 2019 total. Casinos in the St. Paul region, which includes Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, generated $4.8 billion last year. That’s down $135 million, or 2.7%, from its 2019 total.

In the Phoenix region, which covers Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Southern Nevada, the $3.2 billion in GGR for 2021 was nearly $58 million less than its 2019 tally.