For the first time in more than 20 years, U.S. Indian gambling revenues declined.

According to the National Indian Gaming Association, the 237 tribes engaged in gambling operations took in $26.2 billion in revenue from games in 2009, a decrease of $500 million from 2008.

The sector also shed 100,000 jobs.

NIGA spokesman Jason Giles downplayed the news. “It’s not a big hit - certainly not as big as Nevada and New Jersey are taking,” he said.

Speaking at last month’s Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi, Miss., he maintained that the sector is “staying strong and remains steady.”

He noted that the recession has inflicted the greatest damage on tribal casinos in California and Connecticut, while other very substantial jurisdictions, such Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama are doing very well.

Despite this, there are signs the tribes themselves are not feeling all that comfortable - Internet gambling being an example. NIGA members appear mostly divided over whether to unite behind legislative proposals to legalize Web gambling at the same time that the association’s leadership continues along its official line of opposition.

Giles acknowledged that many tribes, including some not currently engaged in gambling, consider Internet gambling an economic opportunity that should be explored.

NIGA’s leaders, meanwhile, are preparing an economic impact study on Web gambling, which they hope to complete this fall.

The possibility that Congress will pass a bill to legalize the industry by that time is “not too much of a threat,” Giles told his Biloxi audience.



OBAMA NAMES TULALIP WOMAN TO HEAD NIGC

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Tracie Stevens, an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes of  Washington state, is President Obama’s choice to chair the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The nomination needs approval from the Senate, whose Committee on Indian Affairs had not scheduled a hearing on the selection as of press time.

Stevens has been the senior advisor to Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk at the U.S. Department of Interior since July 2009.

Stevens spent almost 15 years working for the Tulalip Tribe in both government and business operations. As senior policy analyst with the tribe’s government affairs office, she managed day-to-day operations, including overseeing external public affairs and lobbying functions, carrying out advocacy and networking efforts and serving on state, regional and national Indian gaming-related boards and committees. She previously had served as a legislative policy analyst in the government affairs office working on tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and tribal governance issues.

She is a former chair of the Gaming Subcommittee for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a former secretary of the board of directors for the Washington Indian Gaming Association and a Northwest delegate to the National Indian Gaming Association.

If confirmed, she will serve a three-year term at the helm of the three-member NIGC, which overseas tribal gaming under authority of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.



ARISTOCRAT OPENS MEXICO CITY OFFICE



Aristocrat Technologies has formally opened an office in Mexico City.

The company described the move, completed last month, as “an exciting new era in the company’s history”.

“Mexico holds tremendous potential for Aristocrat as Class III regulated gaming expands in this country,” said Seamus McGill, chief operating officer of Aristocrat Americas. “We recently commenced business in Mexico with major clients and will continue to aggressively pursue opportunities throughout the market.”

Vice President of Latin America Alvaro Nores will be responsible for overseeing and directing the company’s Mexican activities. Carlos Carrion, director of Sales and Operations for Mexico, will direct the sales and support staff.



KENTUCKY DERBY PROVES A WINNER ON ALL FRONTS



More than 155,800 fans braved heavy early morning rain and sporadic showers last month to watch Super Saver win the 136th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Last year, 153,563 turned out.

Combined attendance for the Kentucky Oaks and Derby, April 30 and May 1, was 271,850, also exceeding last year’s 258,430

It was the tenth time that Derby Day attendance exceeded 150,000.

The television ratings were the highest in 18 years. TV network NBC says its coverage drew a 10.3 overnight rating and a 23 share, the best since Lil E Tee won in 1992.

The “rating” is the percentage of all homes with televisions tuned into a program. The “share” is the percentage of all TVs in use at the time. “Overnight ratings” measure the country’s largest markets.

Total wagering from all sources on the race, on-track and off, was $112.7 million, a 7.8 percent increase over the $104.6 million bet in 2009. Total wagering from all sources on the 13-race Derby Day card was $162.7 million, an increase of 4.3 percent over last year’s $156.0 million.

Super Saver’s victory gave WinStar Farm its first Kentucky Derby win. The thoroughbred colt, ridden by three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel, returned $18 on a $2 bet and completed the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:04.45 over a sloppy track.

Churchill Downs returned $133.1 million to bettors on the day, approximately 82 percent of all bets.



FIRST CASINO OPENS IN NEW BRUNSWICK



The Canadian province of New Brunswick welcomed its first casino last month.

The C$90 million Casino New Brunswick, built near the Magnetic Hill tourist attraction in Moncton, features 500 slot machines, 22 table games and an eight-table poker room.

It is owned by Sonco Gaming New Brunswick under an agreement in which the province gets half the profits, which could work out to $25 million a year, according to estimates cited by Canada’s CTV News.

“We think it’s going to help to bring some business to New Brunswick, to the Moncton region certainly, and create 400 jobs, so the spinoffs associated with this kind of gaming centre are very, very positive for the province,” said Marc Belliveau, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

The social impacts of expanded gambling have been vigorously debated in the province for years. A Responsible Gambling Policy promulgated in 2007 resulted in government cutting the number of video lottery terminals from 2,650 to 2,000 and reducing the number of sites where they’re played from 600 to 325.

The government cut the number of video lottery terminals within an 80 kilometer radius of the casino to 400. There had been 700 in the area up until the end of March.



PENN PARTNERS UP IN MARYLAND FOR TWO RACETRACKS



The Maryland Jockey Club, currently operated by MI Developments, will soon be jointly operated by Penn National Gaming.

Under the terms of their joint venture, scheduled to close in the next couple of months, Penn National and MID will “work collaboratively to strengthen and enhance the racing operations at Laurel Park and Pimlico, to maximize the use and value of the Maryland Jockey Club’s real estate assets, and to pursue other opportunities, including the potential for gaming.”

Reports are that Penn could be selected to run future gaming operations should Laurel Park get slot machines.

Penn is building stand-alone slots facility in Cecil County, Md. It also operates Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg in neighboring Pennsylvania. Penn was able to get slots at Penn National because of its racing license.

Publicly traded Penn National owns and operates 19 gaming facilities in 15 jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.

In addition to Laurel Park and Pimlico, MID recently obtained tracks in California and Florida from financially troubled Magna Entertainment Corp.