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October 1, 2014

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And you wonder who pays for those expensive casinos

Gamblers lost a record $34.13 billion in non-tribal casinos last year, a 5 percent increase from 2006 and more than consumers spent going to movies and buying video games combined, the American Gaming Association reported today in its annual industry survey.

It's also more than what consumers spent on candy. Take that, National Confectioners Association!

The revenue figure excludes tribal casinos, considered government operations. Nor do they include dollars spent on dining, shopping, entertainment and other activities in casinos besides gambling – revenue that tops gambling at many Strip casinos. (The American Gaming Association is working on coming up with such estimates for future surveys.)

Seven non-tribal casino markets now generate gaming revenue of more than $1 billion. The biggest jump: Biloxi, Miss. – where casinos are making more money than ever and more lavish casinos replaced properties destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

But revenue and jobs fell in some states, a sign of the worsening economy, increased competition and smoking bans that have some gamblers spending less as they pause for cigarette breaks.

One-fourth of the country’s adult population — 54.5 million — visited non-tribal casinos last year, racking up an unprecedented 376 million trips, or an average of 7 trips per player. By comparison, gamblers made 371 million trips to non-tribal casinos in 2006.

In spite of an economic downturn that began dampening revenue last year, non-tribal casinos have more than $53 billion in new projects planned over the next few years.

All of which, association President Frank Fahrenkopf says, paints a picture of a healthy and dependable industry that is fueling jobs and tax revenue in needy states even during tough economic times.

But Fahrenkopf also dimissed numbers from the group's survey showing that consumers may be souring on the casino industry as it spreads into big cities and suburbs.

In a poll conducted by Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research for the association, 49 percent of Americans believe that casino gambling is "perfectly acceptable for anyone", down from 52 percent in 2006 and 57 percent a decade ago. At the same time, 35 percent said casino gambling was "acceptable for others" but not for themselves, up from 30 percent in 2006 and 28 percent in 1999.

Fahrenkopf minimized the difference, calling year-over-year changes "within the margin of polling error". Yet some critics may use the data to bolster their efforts to keep casinos out of certain states, such as Maryland and Massachusetts.

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