Monday, January 24, 2011

Counting the money at Pa. casinos

Over the past year or so, it has not escaped my notice that business down at Harrah’s – at least when it comes to the slots – has been off.

I have been wondering for some time now why that is. Each month the state Gaming Control Board issues the revenue numbers for the state’s 10 operating casinos, and each month it seems Harrah’s is down from the same month the year before.

No one has yet given a good reason why that is. Are they being hurt by SugarHouse, which opened last fall on the Philadelphia waterfront? Are customers being lured to the swank new Parx Casino at Philly Park, or are they blowing right past Harrah’s on the way to Delaware Park 20 minutes sway down I-95 in Delaware?

I get the feeling SugarHouse is not the problem. They’re having problems of their own. Turns out the Philly casino is not hitting anywhere near the numbers they first envisioned.

Back in 2006 the backers of SugarHouse projected revenue in the neighborhood of $292 million. That has been downsized to $184 million.

Undoubtedly some of that is due to the economy going off a cliff. In fact there are some who believe that the recession may have had a permanent effect on gambling money. Simply put, a lot of discretionary income that once went to gambling is not there anymore.

The new numbers are being used to make the argument that maybe Philadelphia does not need a second casino. Foxwoods is still in the arguing stages. Ironically, Harrah’s is now part of the group looking to rescue the Foxwoods mission.

But there is also the matter of casinos actually competing with themselves, at least when it comes to slots.

Pa. casinos now offer table games, and it turns out that while slots have been in a slump at Harrah’s, their table games are going great guns.

Harrah’s sits at No. 3 in the state when it comes to table games, trailing only Sands Casino in Bethlehem and Parx at Philly Park.

Harrah’s 123 tables brought in revenue of more than $6 million in December.

So who needs slots?

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