Nevada Casinos Report Record Month - Sunday 12th of March 2006

by Howard Stutz

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

LAS VEGAS Free-spending Chinese visitors, celebrating the start of the Year of the Dog, threw a bone to Nevada casinos in January.

The state's gambling halls won $1.14 billion during the month, the single-highest monthly gaming revenue total in state history, casino regulators reported Thursday.

Statewide, the figure was a 24.4 percent increase over the January 2005 total of $917.1 million and marked the 17th straight month of positive growth for Nevada casinos.

On the Strip, casinos won an all-time one month record of $627.5 million from customers, a 29.5 percent increase compared with $484.5 million a year ago. The figure was the largest single-month percentage gain on the Strip since November 1999.

Even downtown Las Vegas casinos, which had reported declines seven times in the previous eight months, had a 15.4 percent jump in gaming revenues, winning $57.3 million compared with $49.7 million in January 2005.

"Certainly, the beginning of Chinese New Year helped the January 2006 numbers as it helped February's numbers last year," said CRT Capital Group gaming analyst Steve Ruggiero. "Every crevice of Las Vegas had strong numbers and this can only point to strong demand for product from Las Vegas locals to Hawaiians visiting downtown alike."

Statewide, gamblers wagered more than $13.8 billion during the month

Frank Streshley, senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board, said the percentage increases around the state were the direct result of last year's inclement weather in California, where record rainfall in the south and snow storms in the north kept travelers away from Nevada in January.

"When you look at the percentage gains, that comes into play, but the numbers are absolutely outstanding and reflect the number of events that took place during the month," Streshley said.

The first three days of Chinese New Year fell at the end of January and gaming analysts said those are the traditionally largest volume days. Also, the New Year's holiday and a large Las Vegas convention crowd fueled by the Consumer Electronics Show in the middle of the month helped gaming win.

On the Strip, revenues from slot machines jumped 30 percent, but the largest driver of increased gaming revenue was from baccarat play. Statewide, baccarat win was $91.2 million, a 23.2 percent increase compared with $74.1 million a year ago. On the Strip alone, the baccarat win was $91 million while volume jumped 84 percent to $827 million.

The heavy play in baccarat helped boost revenues in other table games, analysts said; craps win was up 32 percent and blackjack win jumped 48 percent.

Streshley said he will be interested in seeing if the successful January carries into February's totals, which include events such as the last part of Chinese New Year and Super Bowl weekend.

"What a great way to start off a new year," Gov. Kenny Guinn said in a statement.

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Marc Falcone said the baccarat results were directly attributable to the crowd coming to Las Vegas for Chinese New Year. The overall gaming win reflected the continued strong demand and the overall healthiness of Las Vegas.

"Our contacts in Las Vegas had previously indicated that (credit play) for Chinese New Year was up 20 percent," Falcone said in a note to investors. "We believe Chinese New Year also had a calendar benefit relative to the Super Bowl this year which allowed for greater high-end suite availability."

Elsewhere, the first full month of operations from Boyd Gaming's $600 million South Coast drove the gaming win from the balance of Clark County casinos in areas other than the Strip, downtown, North Las Vegas, Laughlin, the Boulder Strip and Mesquite to $109.8 million, a jump of 17.9 percent compared with $93.1 million a year ago. Streshley said the total marked the first time balance of the county crossed the $100 million thresh hold.

North Las Vegas casinos, which include the Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho, showed a 30 percent jump in gaming revenues while the Boulder Strip, which encompasses Henderson casinos, had a 23 percent increase.

"It looks like the South Coast had a very strong opening," Ruggiero said. "The local casino market is certainly robust and I think South Coast's results had a ripple effect throughout the local casino market."

Washoe County, which includes Reno's casinos, had a 15 percent jump in gaming win. A year ago, casinos in the Northern Nevada county had 8 percent drop in gaming win.

The only areas of the state when gaming win decreased in January were Mesquite, down 6.5 percent, and North Lake Tahoe, off 14.8 percent.

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