New Gaming Reports Point to Iowa Slump

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa doubled down on negative gaming news Thursday in separate reports that said jobs, wages and revenues dipped at the state’s 18 commercial casinos last year while Iowa was part of the only U.S. region that posted declining revenues at Native American gambling establishments in fiscal 2013.

The American Gaming Association released figures for calendar year 2013 that showed Iowa’s 18 state-licensed casinos employed 9,062 permanent workers and paid its employees nearly $335 million in wages, benefits and tips.

That ranked Iowa ninth nationwide for casino employment, which included accounting, hotel management, information systems, technology, software, food and beverage, retail and entertainment jobs.

The down side of the report was that in the previous year Iowa employed 9,558 workers with a total payroll of nearly $341.1 million. It ranked eighth nationally that year.

Overall yearly gross revenue dropped $50.3 million, to $1.417 billion, in 2013, and state gaming tax collections dipped $12.8 million, to $321.6 million.

“We expect that to change (this year) due to a couple of casinos converting from a riverboat to a land-based casino with more amenities,” association spokesman Christopher Moyer said.

“Also, Iowa’s jobs numbers are up slightly since 2010,” he added, noting employment at Iowa casinos stood at 8,915 that year.

Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the state-licensed tracks and casinos in Iowa, said the latest employee count by his group for commercial casinos in Iowa stood at 9,334 last spring. But he added that number is likely to change once proposed facility upgrades at several Iowa casinos are completed and a license dispute in Sioux City is resolved.

Cutbacks

The up-and-down numbers reflect the volatility caused by a 2008 economic recession that forced many businesses to cut back on employment and revamp their operations, said Ehrecke, who noted that the pre-recession jobs peak was about 10,000 people employed at Iowa casinos.

“The casinos tightened up like every company did at that time,” he noted.

“During that economic recession, everybody was trying to do more with less at that time. I think there’s been a little more hiring” as the economy has recovered.

The American Gaming Association employment numbers come on the heels of a fiscal 2014 report from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission indicating that adjusted gross receipts at the 18 state-licensed riverboats and racetrack-casinos operating in Iowa dipped by nearly 4 percent, to $1.388 billion, through June 30.

Commission members, who meet next week to discuss the future course for license applications, have expressed concern studies are indicating Iowa’s gambling industry is reaching market saturation.

Also on Thursday, officials with the National Indian Gaming Commission released data compiled from Native American gaming operations audited financial statements — including three in Iowa — indicating that revenues generated by the Native American gaming industry in 2013 totaled a record $28 billion.

That was a 0.5 percent increase over fiscal 2012.

However, one of the seven regions posted negative numbers — the St. Paul region of nine Great Plains states that include Iowa, which has tribal casinos near Tama as well as Onawa and Sloan.

The report did not break down the data by state or facility.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@sourcemedia.net

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