It’s been a good year for tribal US casinos. The latest figures shared by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) show that over 500 tribal casinos within the United States, operated by nearly 250 different gaming authorities, outperformed all previous performance metrics during the period.
This is for a fiscal year time period, which is a set time that companies use to track and report their financials, not necessarily a traditional calendar year.
At the same time, a year-over-year increase was probably assumed given the circumstances of fiscal year 2020. As the NIGC notes, there could be a regression coming that represents a normalization of the industry.
Tribal casinos cleaned up in 2021-2022
A Wednesday press release reveals that not only was fiscal year 2021 (marked as June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022) the best fiscal year ever for tribal gaming that the Commission tracks but FY2021 also represented the strongest year-over-year improvement in the Commission’s records.
The NIGC says gross gaming revenue for FY2021 amounted to $39 billion. That represents an increase of 40% as compared to FY2020. The Commission says both of those figures are new records.
The release states it used audited financial statements from “510 gaming operations owned by 243 federally recognized tribes” within the borders of 29 different US states to reach its totals. According to the NIGC website, 43 operations collected $250 million or more in revenue during the year.
That was near twice as many as the number of operations that did so in FY2020. For all the positive news, though, there is some important context to note.
The grains of salt for tribal casinos in the US
There are several grains of salt to take this information with. Perhaps most importantly, FY2020 was a low bar for FY2021 to improve upon. The NIGC’s tracking shows that FY2020’s total of $27.8 billion in gross gaming revenue was the lowest fiscal-year total since FY2011.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge factor behind the downturn as tribal casinos across the United States closed and ran at limited capacities for much of that time. FY2021 might not have represented such tremendous year-over-year growth if not for the pandemic.
Additionally, not all of the 243 tribes shared equally in the bumper year. In fact, the largest plurality of the 510 operations (21.4%) reported revenue of less than $3 million for FY2021. The NIGC addresses both of these facts in its report.
“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,” said Commission Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer
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.
At the same time, as the release points out, “tribes engage in gaming for a variety of reasons, and have different ways to define an operation’s success.” FY2021’s total of $39 billion also represented a 13% increase on FY2019‘s total, so some of the growth is legitimate. FY2021 was overall a tremendous year for tribal US casinos.