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Maryland Casinos: Digging Deeper into the Revenue Data for Sept. 2014

Posted by jkarmel on October 11, 2014

The good news for the state treasury and the state’s gaming industry is the dramatic growth in Maryland casino revenue between September 2013 and September 2014, with total revenues up 26.2% in Sept. 2014 over Sept 2013.  ($82.4 million vs. $65.3 million a year ago.)  Typically, one might expect casino revenue to drop between from August to September with people having significantly less recreational time as vacation season ends.  But in Maryland, Sept. 2014 total revenues actually grew by 2.2% from August 2014.  In 2013, total revenues declined from August to September by 9.4%.  In 2012, total revenues dropped from August to September by 3.8%.  The contrast between these two-month spans in 2013 & 2014 is important because it shows that the new casino did grow the total revenues for Maryland casinos and did not just shift money around from one casino to another (although that clearly occurred too).  It’s also worth pointing out that Sept. 2014 had one less Sunday (four) than Sept. 2013 (five), yet still: overall revenues for the month were much higher than the previous year.  Rocky Gap’s total revenue went up approximately 14% in the one-year time frame, at approximately $3.6 million for the month: an impressive gain for the casino in an area long derided as too remote from the Baltimore-Washington region to be successful.

From Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, there were probably a variety of factors in Maryland’s favor steadily driving up revenues and facilitating success, including the contraction of Atlantic City casinos and improving regional economy.  Horseshoe Baltimore’s debut in August 2014 likely benefited from both serious players checking out the newest casino (and its opening month promotions) and casual players dropping by after the hype of the grand opening in late August.  Some of these casually-interested players were probably not casino patrons before, and may not go back into a casino again, deciding to spend entertainment dollars elsewhere.  Caesar’s probably had some success in marketing the Baltimore property to players at Harrah’s Chester or the company’s Atlantic City properties, particularly with all the bad buzz surrounding AC casinos at the moment.

The big question for months for Maryland gaming was: to what extent the opening of the Horseshoe will cut into Maryland Live! revenue? Overall, Maryland Live! earned approximately 9.8% less revenue between the two Septembers, meaning the casino maintained over 90% of its revenue.  This should be seen as a qualified “win” of sorts for the folks at Maryland Live! and probably well within the casino’s strategic calculations for the Horseshoe debut.  Looking at the VLT data, we do see a drop on the “revenue per unit per day” from $247.13 in Sept. 2013 to $219.41 in Sept. 2014, an 11.4% drop, year to year.  Hollywood Casino Perryville- the other most proximate casino to the Horseshoe –dropped similarly on VLT gross revenue per unit per day between the two Septembers: from $162.17 per VLT in 2013 to $144.17 in 2014, an 11% drop. Rocky Gap’s VLT daily VLT win per day was $185.40 in Sept. 2014, a 14.7% increase from Sept. 2013, in contrast to the two central MD casinos impacted by Horseshoe’s grand opening.

In the table games area, Horseshoe’s bite out of Maryland Live! revenue was less dramatic, though still significant.  The September to September numbers showed that Maryland Live! declined approximately 8.8% overall, from $18.2 million to $17.8 million, but less than one per cent in the more lucrative “banked games” category (blackjack, baccarat, roulette, etc.).  Therefore, most of the decline was in poker: otherwise the casino held on to virtually all of its more significant table games business. Similarly, Hollywood Casino Perryville’s table games drop was also less than the VLT decline, 8% overall.  For both Maryland Live! and Hollywood Casino Perryville, slots players were apparently more attracted to the Baltimore casino than tables players.

So now we finally have a few answers, with the significant qualification that we still won’t know the real impact of Horseshoe Baltimore on Maryland gaming for at least two or three months, when the debut effect is clearly past.  This is when the real head-to-head stuff will play out, after the debut hoopla is over.  Then we should see a more stable revenue picture emerge and more clearly understand how much of the September result sticks.   That is: how many of Horseshoe’s Baltimore’s patrons will keep going there or will simply go back to gambling regularly at Maryland Live! or Hollywood Casino Perryville?  The Orioles’ playoff run may also be a factor in looking at Horseshoe Baltimore’s October/November revenue: how many of the baseball fans swarming downtown Baltimore are also checking out the new casino or celebrating there after a win?


  • Twitter: @jameskarmel

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Why Do People Go To Casinos?

Posted by jkarmel on October 4, 2010

Today’s post is something of a response to this latest column from Baltimore Sun business columnist Jay Hancock, a longtime critic of Maryland’s gaming project. In the column, he appears to refer to himself in the third person as an average gambler at the new Hollywood Perryville, though he’s also a befuddled player who doesn’t really understand how the games work or their appeal.

Generally, I like Jay Hancock’s columns. I think he’s insightful and interesting, and I often agree with him. But on casino gaming, he never has really understood its popular appeal and it’s legitimacy as a business enterprise. As this column indicates, Hancock doesn’t seem to like the idea that the casino actually keeps some of the money that slots players bet. He suggests that “it’s still a chump’s game” despite the 90% revenue payouts to players and he advocates signs with the payout percentages on the casino floor. He admits that this is a much better payout than the state lottery, but still, “the gaming guest [Hancock?] wants a better return on his investment.” He also derides the entertainment-themed slots as a simple way to distract players from the “brainless process of pushing a button and losing money.”

Actually, I think most non-gaming people would be surprised to learn that the payout percentage is so high. In my own experience, I’ve noticed that there’s still a fairly strong perception that slot machines are the “one-armed bandits” of lore, where a player has virtually no chance of winning. Just possibly, publicizing the payout percentage may actually lift business; just the opposite of what Hancock implies – that it would enlighten people so that they would stop playing. Also, the statistic he cites about national slots payouts is misleading: that also includes casinos in hyper-competitive gaming markets like Las Vegas where casinos compete over who has the “loosest slots,” constantly pressuring each other to drive up overall payout percentages. Actually (and by statute), Hollywood Perryville is in the same basic payout range as the casino’s mid-Atlantic competition.

What Hancock and other like-minded gaming critics don’t grasp is that casinos exist as entertainment vehicles. Winning is nice when it happens, but if not, so be it. I seriously doubt that many casino players really think they are going to win all the time. They are there for the experience: sometimes individual, sometimes social – but the experience itself is entertaining in the same way a good movie is entertaining or attending a ballgame live is a fun thing to do. There’s an inherent thrill every time the bet is placed and the screen whirls – is this a brainless process? No. In fact, the thrill is tied to a specific reaction in the brain which for the vast majority of gamblers is temporary and can be easily cut off voluntarily. 97-99% of the population is able to control this impulse and they do so willingly: most people are neither compulsive nor at-risk gamblers.

They gamble not so much for the expectation of winning money, but because it is fun. It is an escape from real life: just like watching a football game, or playing a sport, or some other recreational outlet. Hancock doesn’t seem to understand the fun in playing casino slots because it is apparently not fun for him. But not everyone sees fun in going to a football game, the symphony, or the theatre for a live play. But, should we therefore condemn the Ravens, BSO or various Baltimore theatres for wasting people’s money because some don’t find the experience worthwhile? Don’t they allow for people to similarly waste their money? And, as Hancock points out, 67% of the casino’s revenue will pay for public services via dedicated revenue streams. There’s no parallel that I’m aware of when it comes to professional teams, theatres or symphonies: they might generate some tax – but 67% of their revenues? (more if you include local property taxes)

Tens of millions of Americans do find the experience fun – regardless of payout percentages, etc. The entertainment-themed slots are very well-designed and often interactive in creative ways. Technology has made slot machines much better and diverse over the past two decades; hence their increased popularity. Obviously, they are designed to keep people playing and generate higher revenues: that’s called business. An example that Hancock cites — a “Survivor”-themed machine – strikes me as a great idea for a slot machine, and well-represents the relatively recent sophistication of the industry. Why not tie slots to popular television programs, singers, etc. What’s the downside? There is no problem here.

Maryland gaming is an obvious work-in-progress and no one could credibly claim the project successful at this point. However, the opening of Hollywood Perryville certainly is a positive step that now provides a state outlet for slots players who formerly had none.

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Hollywood Casino Perryville in Regional Context

Posted by jkarmel on October 1, 2010

Maryland officially joined the mid-Atlantic gaming club this week, with the Hollywood Perryville opening. Yesterday’s grand opening drew prominent officials and others, and was a big day for the legions of state residents who would rather not travel too far to gamble on slot machines.

As I mentioned for a Baltimore Sun piece last week, Penn National gets a big boost by being the first state operator to open. And, it could hold a basic monopoly in central Maryland gaming (i.e. the Baltimore-Washington market) for a while given the delays in getting the two other sites on the I-95 corridor up and running (Baltimore & Anne Arundel).

Given this present reality of Maryland gaming, I’m turning towards the impact of Hollywood Perryville on the regional gaming market that consists of a tri-state area: southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and northern Maryland. I’ll call it the tri-Atlantic cluster and it will include the following casinos and racinos, for now:

  • Harrah’s Chester (Chester, PA)
  • Hollywood Casino at Penn National (Grantville, PA)
  • Delaware Park (Wilmington, DE)
  • Dover Downs (Dover, DE)
  • Harrington Racetrack (Harrington, DE)
  • Hollywood Casino – Perryville (Perryville, MD)

In the coming weeks, the gaming atlantic blog will look at how the new Maryland casino impacts this cluster and also analyze the impact of table games in the region. Right now at least, the competition is regional and Maryland hopes are that Hollywood Perryville can peel off some portion of gaming traffic otherwise headed to PA or DE (perhaps 10%) in addition to opening up a small new local market: will it happen? Hopefully, Maryland revenue data will be as easily available as it currently is for PA, DE, NJ and NY via the designated regulatory agencies.

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Maryland’s Gaming Situation

Posted by jkarmel on September 23, 2010

I’m back from my writing hiatus – I’ve been busy with our new baby (6 months old), other projects and the early semester professor stuff. But the first casino in Maryland – Penn National’s Hollywood Casino in Perryville – is set to open on September 30, just up the road from me off I-95: hence my return.

There’s plenty of current gaming news around the mid-Atlantic, including the opening of SugarHouse in Philadelphia today and ongoing developments in the Atlantic City gaming saga. But, this post is dedicated to my home state, where gaming has had an interesting ride since votes approved 15,000 VLTs at 5 locations in 2008.

As any Marylander within earshot of a television in the past few months knows, there’s a heated fight over the Cordish Company’s proposal for a Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills Mall. I haven’t seen any recent polling as to which way Anne Arundel county voters will vote – but I’ll speculate anyway. I think the anti- side is winning. They have a lot more ads out and they are fairly well-done for the purpose. They effectively resonate a simple message, whether you agree or not with it: voters should block the casino because mall-going families and casinos don’t mix. The commercials are slick and simple and well-produced. By contrast, there have been only a few commercials on the pro- side and (apparently) not as much resources expended to this point.

Last week, there was a report that the state might investigate Penn National’s (PN) funding of the anti- Arundel Mills campaign and possibly delay the opening of that firm’s Hollywood Casino in Perryville on Sept. 30: but that doesn’t appear likely right now. I can’t find anything in the Maryland legislation prohibiting such an effort, so I’m not sure how there would be any legal case for the postponement.

However, PN’s involvement as a partner with Magna Entertainment to block the Cordish proposal certainly will complicate matters if the group succeeds in stopping the Arundel Mills casino. Maryland’s gaming legislation seems clear enough: no operator can have more than one site license. From the statute, often referred to as “S.B. 3” for Senate Bill 3:


So, if/when Magna-Penn National applies for the Arundel site license, there will need to be a legislative fix to allow it to go through. As well, anybody else could jump in with a new site application- including Cordish – if the referendum passes.

There was almost a precedent for a legislative fix that would allow one firm to operate more than one casino in last year’s legislative session. The Assembly almost passed a bill allowing for an existing licensee to operate a Rocky Gap casino (western Maryland) as a satellite operation.

The provision didn’t make it into the final bill, which otherwise slightly lowered the overall tax rate for the Rocky Gap site in an effort to attract a bid for the gaming license: from 67% to 64.5% for the first five years of operations. We’ll know soon how well that worked when the Maryland Lottery re-bids the site in November.

But while it didn’t make it into the final bill, the Rocky Gap proposal could provide a precedent of sorts to allow PN a way to operate both Hollywood Perryville and a new Laurel casino. In that event, Penn National would be the majority gaming operator in Maryland for the foreseeable future. Of course, that would take us into questions about the implications of market consolidation in Maryland gaming: a good topic for a future post.

Update: I just heard from a good source that the Assembly did, in fact, update the terms of the Rocky Gap site license to allow for a business entitiy other than the owner to manage the property. Theoretically this would allow an existing licensee to manage that property via some contractual arrangement, Penn National for example. This is a relatively common feature of the gaming industry: various Indian casinos have management agreements with external entities, for example. Here is the operative legislative language:



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Maryland Update: Table Games & More

Posted by jkarmel on July 24, 2010

I’m just back from Europe after a long trip surrounding a conference in Prague: saw a bunch of small casinos from the outside, even a solitary slot a machine outside a gas station in one place, and a highway service area/mini-casino.

So today in the Baltimore Sun, reporter Hannah Cho has an update of Maryland gaming, including the news that the MD Court of Appeals ruled against the Cordish Company and will allow the referendum to take place on the Arundel Mills casino this November. Obviously, that’s bad news for Cordish — but it’s also good news for Penn National, which should have its Hollywood casino open for business by October with zero real competition in Maryland. The article also has a summary of the new table games action surrounding Maryland – in West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Here’s a key excerpt:

Delaware Park has reported a slight increase this month in slots revenue, said Andrew Gentile, the casino’s chief operating officer.

“It would be the first month in 25 months that slots revenue is up year over year,” Gentile said. “Table games have brought a lot of energy back to the slots floor.”

Ron Marcus, who owns two hotels near the Charles Town casino, is so optimistic that he’s planning to build two new hotels and to expand his Turf Motel adjacent to the Hollywood Casino.

That table games have boosted VLT revenue at Delaware Park is very significant. Slots are still the driving force and will be the gaming cash cow in the mid-Atlantic for the foreseeable future. Yet table games can make a significant impact, for example accounting for over 30% of revenue in Atlantic City (though we’ll see if that changes now that PA casinos have table games too). Yet, they can bring in new customers to at at casino restaurants, drink at pubs, stay at the hotel, etc. — all to produce revenue.

However, table games often come with significant start-up and labor costs that have to be offset with potential revenues, now complicated for MD casinos due to the close competition. Basically, Maryland’s costly late start with slots/VLTs compared to its neighbors is now being replicated with table games. Is it too late to make them worthwhile for Maryland casinos, even if the state legalizes? Maybe.

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Arundel Mills Casino: Win For Cordish

Posted by jkarmel on June 26, 2010

Big win for Cordish yesterday when a judge threw out the anti-casino
referendum from the “Stop Slots at Arundel Mills” group, clearing the way for the Maryland Live! casino. Expect an appeal. Both sides have a lot at stake in this battle of gaming interests: Cordish vs. MD Jockey Club/Magna Entertainment:.
Fox 45 article
Baltimore Sun article

The ruling is a bit of a twist and very good for Cordish because it nullifies the principal behind the referendum drive itself, adding a significant legal hurdle to the forces to grapple with on appeal. The judge viewed the zoning approval as an “appropriation” and therefore not even subject to a referendum, using a similar failed effort to block Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the 1980s. Now, the casino opponents must demonstrate 1-why the zoning approval really is legitimate, and 2-the signatures are valid.

Importantly, the judge also noted that the 2008 voter approval would be essentially reversed if the referendum were allowed to go through and wrong. This has been a significant point for Cordish from the beginning – that Maryland and Anne Arundel voters have already spoken via the original referendum, and that decision should stand.

I’ve written this before and again want to emphasize that this really is a battle between two gaming interests, with a little NIMBY aspect thrown in. Magna and its MD Jockey Club partners have been behind the effort from the beginning, and have capitalized on the grumblings of some local residents to make their case. This reminds me a lot of the battle over the tunnel-connector in Atlantic City in the late 1990s, really a battle between gaming titans Steve Wynn (then of Mirage) and Donald Trump – but that played out publicly as a movement led by a few local homeowners.

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ARCHIVE – Mid-Atlantic VLT/Slot Machine Revenue

Posted by jkarmel on June 2, 2010

[ARCHIVE: originally published by GA on November 10, 2008]

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the potential revenue of the Maryland casinos and how the economic downturn has impacted slots revenue in the mid-Atlantic. So, I did a little research and came up with the following data:

The highest monthly revenue per machine was Harrah’s Atlantic City at $13,633 per slot machine in August and the lowest was Dover Downs at $5,145 for September. It’s a quick and dirty analysis that doesn’t yet include data from 2007, but the above graph does show that:

* VLT/slots revenue was relatively consistent for the two Philly-area casinos before September’s nosedive
* Atlantic City retains a seasonal effect: summertime revenues climbed more than in the other properties
* mid-Atlantic gaming is taking a hit this Fall as the economy declines, though the decline is especially steep in the ‘destination’ casinos of Atlantic City

What could this mean for Maryland casinos? Still much to be worked out, but I see the I-95 casinos (esp. Laurel & Baltimore) as fairly similar to the Philly properties in terms of location and local market as opposed to the ‘destination’ resorts of Atlantic City. This could mean that they are more recession-proof than the Atlantic City casinos, now experiencing their worse downturn in the 30-year history of gaming in south Jersey.

The DE racinos need more analysis, but at this point, the Ocean City, MD property will likely be more like one of these, sans hotels or any other amenities for that matter. The Ocean City location is legally banned from being much more than a bare-bones racino.

OK– just a few points here for now: a little speculation, nothing too scientific.

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ARCHIVE – Studs Terkel, 1912-2008

Posted by jkarmel on June 2, 2010

The news that Studs Terkel died got swallowed up in all the election hoopla last week. But this remarkable man’s death is significant. Terkel was pivotal in the elevation of oral history as a field, well-known for his numerous interviews with common folks in Chicago (where he lived) & elsewhere. He understood the power of oral history to chronicle the real lives of people– to create history without official sanction. As a practitioner of oral history, I owe a debt to this man for his work and service to our field. So, here’s to you Studs- we’re all better for your life’s work.

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Atlantic City Blues (& some good news too) – ARCHIVE

Posted by jkarmel on June 2, 2010

[ARCHIVE: Originally published by GA on November 7, 2008]

Borgata just laid off 400 workers and the total number of casino employees in Atlantic City is down 799 from a year ago at 40, 124. Now, there’s always a mild seasonal effect in the coastal resort, but the Borgata constriction is relatively significant. For five years, Borgata has mainly been going gangbusters in Atlantic City: single-handedly changing the town’s casino image from downscale to hip. This is its first layoff — a rarity in a cyclical industry where layoffs are far from unknown (at least in AC). For two years, it has generally maintained strong revenues as other AC properties took big hits amidst economic decline, skyrocketing gas prices, Pennsylvania competition and the partial smoking ban.

Meanwhile, Pinnacle put its $1.5 billion, 20-acre casino development on “indefinite hold” & announced that it would listen to offers for the prime property smack dab in the middle of the Boardwalk strip. I’m guessing there may be some offers and who knows, maybe a better-capitalized firm will get that casino built sooner than Pinnacle. This news comes just after official confirmation of MGM Mirage’s ominous suspension of its $5 billion project in the Marina. It also comes amidst the tragi-comedy that is the city council’s efforts to ban smoking completely from the casino floor. Now that Maryland has legalized gaming, another competitive threat enters the AC universe, though one of the best gaming analysts around (Michael Pollack) is minimizing that particular issue. Dave Schwartz had a great snapshot from this episode a few weeks ago on the die is cast, his excellent blog.

I’ve been in Atlantic City a lot working on Gambling on the American Dream and conducting oral history over the past five years. In that time, I’ve gotten to know it well. AC has a fighting spirit and its community is adaptable and ever-forward looking. Since the mid-1980s, it has become very diverse and once-faded sections of town are now lively, interesting neighborhoods full of hard-working immigrants from all over Latin America and Asia mixed with the descendents of Irish, Italian & Jewish immigrants from the early 20th century. The city’s sizeable African-American community has a rich history and strong sense of community. For the most part, everybody gets along. Most casino patrons never see this flip side to Atlantic City, nor do they see the many new houses subsidized by casinos via New Jersey’s unique funding formula with 1.25% of the casino ‘win.’

Maybe its because I grew up in the Bronx, but AC’s diverse, gritty urban culture is appealing to me. The place has tons of character — its unique, not generic. I’m still in AC regularly as we wrap up the Atlantic City Free Public Library’s ’30 Years, 30 Voices’ oral history project and understand the problems that city and local casinos face, but I’m optimistic for it too.

The Atlantic City casino industry has been through tough times before in its casino years –such as the junk bond debt crisis of the late 1980s – and pulled through well. The casino industry, smart regulators and local leaders dealt with the new competitive threats posed by Foxwoods, Mississippi and riverboat casinos in the1990s very effectively by adjusting the regulatory code and launching a wave of casino expansion and mixed development that culminated with Borgata and the Walk retail outlet center. Many of the properties added new hotel towers, expanded their casino space and otherwise became stronger and it worked: AC was doing quite well overall until the late troubles. The Revel project is coming along steadily just east of Showboat and will likely be the Boardwalk equivalent of the Marina’s Borgata in terms of new style and glamour.

No one knows for sure what will happen — but AC’s recent problems are probably only temporary, if history is any guide.

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Moving Fast in Maryland

Posted by jkarmel on June 2, 2010

[Originally published by GA on November 6, 2008]

According to the Baltimore Sun, the state is moving quickly to get its new casinos established within the two year window mandated by the law. Of course, this is necessary in order to meet a February 1, 2009 deadline for the license applications. The new commission may in fact be up and running next month (December) to start administering the application process. The Sun also pointed out that Baltimore moved quickly to make designated property available for purchase — something which will smooth the process for a potential gaming firm to make a bid.

Right now, the Cordish Company is clearly eyeing the area, along with other designated spots. The Maryland Jockey Club (parent company: Magna Entertainment) is pulling together its bid for the Laurel site even as slots opponents in Anne Arundel County declare intent to keep the fight going with a zoning battle (as I predicted in yesterday’s post).

With all the potential for sensationalized obstruction, I’m confident that Maryland officials will go about this efficiently & publicly to get things done fast. The pitfalls otherwise loom large in the charged political climate surrounding Maryland casinos. I doubt that local forces will be able to block the new casinos via zoning, but in Laurel & Ocean City, they could delay proceedings for a while. There appear to be no substantive local hurdles in Baltimore, which is good news for bidders there. From an industry standpoint, the fact that Maryland is a closed market could also be advantageous: despite the restrictions, gaming companies won’t need to constantly be concerned over competitors opening up and carving up the market.

I’m still wary of the financial commitment involved in a stalled gaming market, but also encouraged that things are moving in a more positive direction. The great locations of MD’s three I-95 corridor casinos should attract sufficient interest for viable casinos to open within the law’s 2-year timeframe. The Rocky Gap location is a big question mark right now: will its remote location hinder development?

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