Nevada locals drive the state’s gaming revenue recovery in April

During a quarterly earnings conference call this month, Red Rock Resorts Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey touted the operating trends in the Las Vegas locals gaming market. Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith made a similar observation a week earlier.

“We continue to see strong visitation from a younger demographic, increased spend per visit, more time spent on devices, plus the growing return of our core customer,” Cootey said.

The comments by the top executives that oversee the majority of the off-Strip casino business were validated Thursday. The local gaming markets – suburban areas outside the Las Vegas Strip corridor – staged a post-pandemic comeback in April.

Combined gaming revenues of $244.8 million was an 18 percent increase compared to April 2019 according to results released Thursday by the Gaming Control Board. The neighborhood gaming figures – part of Clark County’s overall total of $865.4 million – were a factor in the month’s statewide $1.039 billion gaming revenue figure.

April 2021’s overall gaming revenue total was an 11 percent increase over $936.5 million recorded in April 2019 and a sign that areas of Nevada are bouncing back quicker than most analysts had anticipated.

The state’s overall April total marked the second straight month Nevada topped $1 billion in revenues as the industry recovers from the pandemic. COVID-19 closures and operating restrictions in 2020 sent the nation’s largest gaming market to record double-digit percentage declines and its lowest overall figures since the mid-1990s.

Gaming regulators and analysts are using 2019 numbers as a comparison for 2021 after casinos were closed a year ago for 78 days starting in mid-March.

Unlike Strip casinos, which rely heavily on destination travelers, neighborhood casinos are viewed similarly to regional jurisdictions, which count on a heavy drive-in customer.

“Nevada’s regional results were some of the strongest across the U.S.,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon told investors in a research note.

As for the Strip, gaming revenue totals of $483.4 million were a less than 1 percent increase over April 2019. The Strip was still bogged down in April by lack of conventions that bring in midweek visitation and the absence of international travel. McCarran International Airport had just 31,214 international travelers in April – all from Mexico – which was an overall decline of 90.3 percent for the month. In 2019, McCarran had nonstop service to and from 11 different countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, China and Israel, but is now down to one due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Southern Nevada had more than 2.57 million visitors in April, an increase of 15.4 percent over March, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. However, compared to April 2019, the total was down 27.3 percent from 3.54 million.

In April, Las Vegas recorded its 13th straight month without convention and meeting attendees. Las Vegas hotel occupancy was at 65.6 percent in April with weekend occupancy at 83.5 percent.

‘Slots are off the charts’

Control Board Senior Research Analyst Michael Lawton said a deep dive into April’s gaming figures showed slot machine activity was a key reason for the statewide increase.

Statewide slot machine revenues of $793.7 million was up 20.5 percent compared to April 2019 and marked the highest single-month slot machine total in Nevada history, eclipsing the previous record of $779.6 million set in October 2007.

Wagering on slot machines increased 18.7 percent in the month to $11.1 million. The figure was the highest volume recorded since May 2008.

“Slots are off the charts,” Lawton said.

Good month for the locals

Casinos within the unincorporated areas of the Las Vegas Valley – referred to as the balance of Clark County – set an all-time record for consecutive gaming revenue months for April and May. The total of $137.6 million in April was a 34.8 percent increase over April 2019.

Beynon said the Las Vegas locals segment wasn’t the state’s only market showing signs of a rebound during April. Reno gaming revenues of $61.8 million were up 29% compared to April 2019 while downtown Las Vegas gaming revenues of $76.2 million increased 23 percent.

North Las Vegas was the only market in the state that didn’t report a revenue increase in April. Two casinos operated by Red Rock Resorts that are included in North Las Vegas totals, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station, have remained closed for more than a year.

Washoe County recorded its highest single-month gaming revenue total since July 2008 with $87.4 million, a jump of 32.8 percent over April 2019.

As the Strip goes, so does Nevada

Slot machine play saved the Strip’s overall total. Table game revenues declined 24.4 percent and baccarat revenues fell 57.5 percent. However, slot machine revenues of $327 million was up 18.9 percent compared to April 2019. More than $3.8 billion was wagered on slot machines at Strip resorts, a 15.8 percent increase from April 2019.

Las Vegas’ average daily room rate was $109 during April, 9.2 percent higher than March, but down 16.1 percent with pre-pandemic April 2019. LVCVA Vice President of Research Kevin Bagger said the improved occupancy and room rates translated into $71.74 in revenue per available room, a 29.1 percent increase over March but still 60 percent below 2019 levels. The calculation is used as a measure by analysts to assess profitability.

McCarran International Airport numbers in April showed improvement with 2.9 million passengers coming through the facility in April, a 12.9 percent increase from March, but was down 32 percent compared to April 2019.

Statewide, gaming revenues are up 34.8 percent over the dismal 2020 numbers. Compared to June 2020 when casinos resumed operations gaming revenues are down 10.1 percent.

Backing out the Strip’s 27.3 percent revenue decline since last June, Lawton said the state would be up 10.9 percent for the same time period and Clark County as a whole would be up 7.8 percent.

During April, casinos were operating at 80 percent capacity limits. The Gaming Control Board is rescinding all COVID-19 mitigation protocols starting Tuesday, allowing the gaming industry statewide to resume 100 percent operations.