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updated 12/7/2010 8:54:46 AM ET 2010-12-07T13:54:46

The amount of time gamblers are spending in Atlantic City casinos is falling, and they're holding on more tightly to their wallets while they're there.

A new statistical study shows the amount of time gamblers spent inside casinos in the second-largest gambling market in the U.S., after Las Vegas, is down more than 22 percent, and the amount of money they spend there is down almost 30 percent over the last four years.

And the hit to the casinos' bottom line is substantial: gross operating profit per hour is down 61 percent.

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Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, which wrote the study, said the numbers show just how drastically the Atlantic City market is changing.

"It's shifting toward a visitor base that is less gambling-centric, which means they're gambling less per hour with tighter wallets," he said. "Recessions end, and when it does, what Atlantic City needs to do is diversify its customer base.

"We didn't realize it at the time, but 2006 and 2007 in Atlantic City and Las Vegas was really too good to be true," Pollock said. "People were spending more than they could afford."

That came to a screeching halt when the economy started slowing down in late 2007 and nearly crashed in 2008.

The study examined third-quarter figures from 2006 to 2010 in three areas: gross gaming revenue per visitor hour (the amount of money casinos take in for every hour a gambler is on their premises); total visitor hours, and gross operating profit per visitor hour.

Gross gaming revenue fell from $9.13 per hour in 2006 to $6.42 for the city's 11 casinos.

Gross operating profit per visitor hour went from $2.74 in 2006 to $1.05 in the third quarter of this year — a drop of more than 61 percent.

Corresponding hourly figures were not available for Las Vegas. But it, too, has been struggling with the recession and the relentless expansion of casinos and slots parlors into local neighborhoods around the country.

Gambling revenue in Las Vegas is up less than 1 percent to $6.7 billion in Clark County from January through September, even though the area has seen 2.4 percent more visitors during the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same time last year.

And 2009 was a similarly bad year: fewer people came to Vegas and they gambled even less. There were 3 percent fewer visitors than in 2008, but gambling revenue was down 9.8 percent.

Atlantic City's casino revenue fell from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006 to $3.9 billion in 2009. For the first 10 months of this year, they are at $3.1 billion, down 9.1 percent from the same period in 2009.

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