Americans spent more money gambling in 2007 than on movie tickets or candy, but the steady growth of commercial casinos in the past decade could take a hit next year because of a slumping economy and setbacks in building new places to play.
A survey released Wednesday by the American Gaming Association showed that U.S. commercial casino revenues were up 5.3 percent to $34.1 billion in 2007. Citing numbers from the National Confectioners Association and the Motion Picture Association of America, the survey said Americans spent $29 billion on candy and $9.6 billion on movie tickets in 2007.
But casino jobs were down 2.3 percent, with casinos in Nevada, New Jersey and Illinois cutting jobs, according to the study.
The study said commercial casinos lost about 8,500 jobs in 2007, and employed fewer than 361,000 workers in 2007 compared with 369,000 in 2006.
New Jersey — hurt by slot parlors opening in Philadelphia suburbs and a law limiting smoking to a portion of the casino floor — saw revenues fall 5.7 percent to $4.9 billion in 2007, the survey said. A more restrictive ban on smoking approved by the Atlantic City Council is expected to take effect in October, making it the largest gambling spot in the country to bar smoking across the casino floor.
In March, bids for new casinos were rejected in Massachusetts and Kentucky. Coupled with failed attempts to build casinos in Ohio and Nebraska two years ago, some say rapid expansion of casinos has slowed.
"We're facing some difficult economic times," said American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf. "People said for years that we were recession-proof. I've been saying we're not recession-proof, we're recession-resistant."
"There's a lot of factors that go into it and I don't think you can point at any one," he said.
Fahrenkopf said that tight credit markets — which have led companies to shelve or delay new projects — would likely not affect most of $53 billion in commercial casino expansion expected over the next few years.
Revenues jumped ahead at the 41 racetrack casinos across 11 states, which reported $5.3 billion in gambling revenue in 2007, up 46 percent from $3.6 billion the previous year, according to the study. Employment at those properties rose 22 percent.
The study said four of the top 10 racetrack casino markets had properties open during the past two years.
The American Gaming Association survey collected data from state regulatory agencies on 467 commercial casinos in 12 states. It did not attempt to track results at casinos run by American Indian tribes.