evada casinos generated nearly US$ 2 billion in revenue from penny slots last year, a 21 % increase from 2007, when the state’s gambling and tourism business peaked.
Boosted by China’s booming economy, baccarat peaked at US$ 1.2 billion in revenue last year, more than 99 % of that coming from the Strip, where fewer than two dozen casinos offer the game favored by Chinese high rollers.
For the first time last year, baccarat generated more revenue statewide than blackjack, a game that is losing ground as the most widely played table game in Nevada casinos. There are 149 more baccarat tables than a decade ago, and 815 fewer blackjack tables.
Blackjack revenue is down 17 % from a decade ago and has plummeted 31 % from 2007. Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las Vegas Advisor, attributes much of the decline to the recession.
Gambling’s high end, represented by baccarat, has been least affected by the economy, Curtis said. Blackjack is a mass-market game played primarily by midrollers who can less afford to gamble, however, he said. “This is why Vegas got hammered,” he said. “It needs the middle market.”
Nevada’s gambling revenue rose by less than 1 % last year, reversing two years of 10 % declines, on the strength of higher baccarat play and, to a lesser extent, penny slots.
Baccarat revenue grew by US$ 279.9 million from 2007. But that wasn’t enough to offset the US$ 1.8 billion decline from all forms of slot machines, which generate more than 60 % of Nevada’s gambling revenue, since 2007’s peak.
Players have gravitated to these machines in part because they are the newest gizmos on casino floors, with captivating bells and whistles. But casinos also encourage gamblers to play them by “inundating their floors with the machines they want people to play,” Curtis said.
Penny slots can be inexpensive to play because, after an initial wager of US$ 1 or more, subsequent bets can be made for as little as a penny per spin. Many gamblers instead wager the maximum amount of US$ 3 or more per spin to qualify for the best jackpots, making such machines more profitable for casinos than older generations of slot machines.
Despite the penny slot upswing, overall wagering on slot machines fell 22 % from 2007 to about what gamblers wagered on slots between 1998 and 1999. Nor are individual games as profitable as they were in years past. Dividing revenue by the number of machines in operation across the state, each penny slot game generated about US$ 47,000 last year, a 7 % decline from 2007 and a sign of increasing competition for gamblers’ wallets.