The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) unveiled Wednesday fiscal year 2021's record figures, with gross gaming revenue totaling $39 billion, an increase of 40% over FY 2020, and 13% up from FY 2019. Showing a strong upward trend overall, all of the eight NIGC administrative regions experienced an increase last year.
Gaming revenue for fiscal year 2021 is the highest in Indian gaming history. It marked its largest increase, following its greatest decrease brought on by a record level of pandemic-related closures in FY 2020.
Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer said that Indian gaming is “doing very well.” “If fiscal year 2021 has shown anything, it has demonstrated that Indian Gaming is a resilient industry,” he added. Simermeyer and Vice Chair Jeannie Hovland made the announcement live from Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the OIGA Tradeshow and Conference.
Indian Gaming revenue has shown steady year-over-year increases for the past 20 years. However, in 2020, Indian Gaming revenue saw an end to that positive trend, marking the first big drop since 2000. Nevertheless, that seems to be long left behind amid fiscal year 2021's record increases.
Individual increases among the eight NIGC regions were in the double digits. The Rapid City region experienced the largest increase, totaling 56%, followed by Tulsa with 49.9%, and Oklahoma City with 46.7%. St.Paul was the region that experienced the least increase with 28.3%.
But not all gaming operations saw as great of a rebound. Location, regional dynamics around competition and other regional economic characteristics, like workforce and tourism opportunities, can all shape operators' individual strategies as well as the pace of recovery.
“NIGC recognizes this year's rebound has not been felt equally by all tribes. We are committed to helping all tribal operations benefit from the regulatory lessons learned over the past two years,” Simermeyer stated. “As we seek to build the regulatory workforce's preparedness, all parts of the Indian gaming industry have a responsibility to learn from the experiences of tribes who have forged the path so we preserve those lessons and retain that knowledge for generations to come”
The announcement explains that 43 gaming operations reported a total gross gaming revenue greater than $250 million, which represents 50% of total revenues. According to Hovland, this year’s revenues underscore the wide diversity geographically, demographically, and financially in gaming operations across the Indian country.
It is worth noting that some casino operations have only been able to reopen their gaming operations back to 100% as recently as July, due to the operations’ social distancing measures during the pandemic.
“While last year experienced a record number of closures there was also growth with new operations opening. This demonstrates gaming operations and tribes are making difficult decisions as they navigate a rebound from the pandemic,” Simermeyer concluded.
The GGR figure is calculated from the independently audited financial statements of 510 gaming operations owned by 243 federally recognized tribes, across 29 states, and the GGR for an operation is based on the amount wagered minus winnings returned to players.
“With the pandemic still at the top of mind for tribes, Indian gaming continues to show its resiliency through innovative operational advancements and the steadfast leadership of tribal regulatory authorities,” the NIGC summarized. “Indian gaming’s regulatory community remains mindful that dramatic fluctuations – whether positive or negative– require time for the industry’s return to more predictable trends.”