ovember slots revenue was us$ 114.7 million, up from us$ 101.6 million in November 2007. The seventh casino, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, opened in February and is not accounted for in the revenue increase.
"You’d think, with the economy the way it is, there would be a slowdown, but I don’t see it," said Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, whose township is home to PhiladelphiaPark Casino, the state’s top-grossing slots parlor. "I’m amazed."
Taxpayers are sharing in the joy. Between January 1 and November 30, all seven casinos contributed us$ 1.32 billion - 55 % of their total us$ 2.4 billion take - to state coffers, officials said. The money is then plowed into expansion of the Convention Center in Philadelphia, as well as county budgets and local property-tax relief.
Four of the seven new gambling houses are in impoverished areas with unemployment rates well above the state average in October of 5.4 %. The other three casinos are in towns too small to even register their own unemployment rates with the state Department of Labor and Industries, such as East Hanover Township in Dauphin County and Washington, about 29 miles from Pittsburgh.
The casino and racetrack in Chester is in a city that had an unemployment rate of 9.3 % in October and an average household income of us$ 25,703 in the 2000 census, well below the us$ 40,106 state average.
The rosy revenue numbers may owe a lot, industry experts say, to the novelty of the Pennsylvania gaming market, which is barely two years old. The first slots parlor, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, opened in November 2006.
"It’s not a surprise," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a gambling-consulting firm near Atlantic City. "There is still a newness to it. You are attracting people who view it as the new attraction in the neighborhood, and they’re curious to see it."
Not surprising, Pennsylvania’s windfall comes at the expense of Atlantic City, where casino revenue dropped 6.3 % for the first nine months of this year compared with the same period a year earlier, as many former Pennsylvania slots customers were choosing to gamble closer to home.
"We’re cautious at what we’re looking at in light of the downturn of the national economy, but really happy with what we are seeing," said Mary DiGiacomo Colins, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which regulates the state’s gambling industry, of the year-over-year revenue increase. "The concept of having regulated gaming all around the state is paying off for us.
Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, who has done research on human behavior, risk-taking and thrill-seeking, said a bad economy could spur some people toward gambling for the wrong reasons.
Joel Naroff, chief economist at TD Bank and head of Naroff Economic Advisors, of Holland, said the real test of Pennsylvania casinos’ staying power would be the New Year. "It will be interesting to see what the first quarter of 2009 looks like compared to the first quarter of 2008," he said. "There’s a lot more concern, fear and uncertainty now than there was a year ago."