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OKLAHOMA CITY — The voluntary closures of Indian gaming casinos during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to a severe hit in gaming revenues last year. Figures released today by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) revealed gross gaming revenue (GGR) for fiscal 2020 of $27.8 billion — a steep decline from fiscal 2019. 

The reduction in gaming revenue was revealed today by the NIGC’s Indian Gaming Commission’s Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice Chair Jeannie Hovland during the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Conference in Oklahoma City, Okla. Last year was the first year since 2006 there was a decrease in GGR for Indian gaming casinos, according to the report. 

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During FY 2019, gross gaming revenue was $34.6 billion. The figures released Tuesday reflect a decline of gross gaming revenue of $6.7 billion, a decrease of 19.5 percent.

The amount of time Indian casinos were closed varied during the pandemic. Decisions were made by each governing body of the casinos. As decisions were made to close the Indian gaming casinos during the pandemic, tribes stated their decisions were reasons made out of utmost caution to protect the health and safety of guests, employees and community. For many of the casinos that operate 24 hours per day and seven days a week, the closing during the pandemic represented the first time they were ever closed since they opened their doors for business.

“This Gross Gaming Revenue decrease was expected; the unknown was just how much of an impact COVID-19 had on Indian gaming. Every year, the annual GGR figure tells a story about Indian gaming’s successes, contributions to Indian communities, and economic impacts. This was highlighted even more during the pandemic. Nevertheless, tribes were on the forefront of creating standards, developing new safety protocols, and sharing community resources. I foresee this decrease as only a temporary setback for Indian gaming,” Simermeyer said.

According to NIGC, most gaming operations began closing in March 2020 as Covid-19 began to spread. Most operations reopened limited gaming within 60 days. Others remained closed longer or had to reclose out of an abundance of caution when local factors dictated that was the best course of action. Some gaming operations have yet to reopen.

The Indian Gaming Commission measures casino revenues in eight regions around the United States. The Rapid City (S.D.) Region experienced the largest decrease of 36.6 percent. The Sacramento Region saw the least loss of GGR with a 13.2 percent decrease.

The gross gaming revenue figure is an aggregate of revenue from 524 independently audited financial statements of 248 federally recognized tribes across 29 states. The GGR for an operation is based on the amount wagered minus winnings returned to players

The annual gross gaming revenue report is based on information from independent audit reports submitted by 524 Indian gaming establishments operated by 248 gaming tribes in 29 states. The underlying audits are conducted in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, National Indian Gaming Commission regulations and tribal gaming ordinances.

“Despite the limits and uncertainty of the last year, it is important to focus on the sacrifices of and economic refuge provided by tribes and the community impacts. Tribal gaming has shown resilience and commitment, and continues to develop new roads to economic stability. I look forward to seeing Indian gaming continue to lead the way in efforts to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hovland said.

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