Montana Video Gambling Revenues Dip in 2014, the First Decline Since 2010
Now that the 2014 gaming statistics have been tabulate, it’s clear that video gambling revenues continue to decline in the state of Montana. The numbers declined by 0.2 from 2013 to 2014, according to the Montana Justice Department’s Gambling Control Division.
While that might not sound like a major decline, until a few years ago, states had been used to a steady increase in the gaming revenues from one year to the next. In a country where the population continues to expand, growth should occur simply by having more people of gambling age in the state each year. When one takes into account inflation brought on by population increases and heavy borrowing by the U.S. government, a small decline represents a major step back for Montana. State budgets plan for certain levels of revenue, so shortfalls become a major issue, when they happen.
Peaks and Valleys since 2008
Numbers have fluctuated since 2008, which was the peak year for Montana video gambling. In 2008, the numbers reached $63.4 million. Two years later, the revenues fell to a ten-year low, down to $50.3 million. Since then, 2011, 2012, and 2013 had shown increases.
Money from gaming revenues go into the state’s General Fund. Video gambling generated about $57 million in 2014, so the shortfall will have to be made up somewhere. While the decline in 2014 was noted by Rick Ask, the Gambling Control Division Administrator for Montana, he said that the state is optimistic that the 2015 numbers will top the numbers produced in either 2013 or 2014. He said that the numbers should increase. The economy is continuing to improve marginally nationwide, but it’s hard to pin down why the revenues declined this past year, said Rick Ask. He suggested several factors had an impact, including some non-gambling related changes to the Montana laws.
Smoking Ban Has Hurt over the Past 5 Years
Mr. Ask said, “The implementation of the smoking bans from the Clean Indoor Air Act to taverns and bars in October of 2009, and that’s where, along with the downturn of the economy, and actually a really rough winter–the perfect storm is what I call it at the time.”
Anonymous Gambler Speaks
One female gambler, who asked not to be identified, said she appreciated the smoking ban. The woman, who identified herself as a smoker who sometimes struggled with the nicotine addiction, did not believe the smoking ban was a major impact on player habits.
The anonymous gambler said, “For myself, I smoke too much and now I don’t smoke as much, which I think is great.” When she was asked pointedly by a reporter from NBC Montana whether the ban, she said, “I don’t think it’s had that much of an issue. I really don’t.”
Gaming Attendants Discuss Decline
People who work in the gaming venues across the state were at a loss to say why gaming machines were less productive this past year, which was a full 5 years after the smoking ban went into effect. They did point out that gaming activity seems to be on the rise at present.
Jana Ashley, who works as a bookkeeper and floor attendant at the Lucky Charm Casino in Butte, says that she could notice a drop-off in customer participation during stretches of 2014. Ashley said, “Business did decrease for a little while. It started to pick back up again. So we’ll see.”
Gambling Control Commission Expects an Increase
The Montana Gambling Control Commission recently went on record saying it hoped to see gambling numbers increase in the coming year. Rick Ask said one reason to hope for improvements was the recent implementation of “line games” at the gaming machine establishments across the state.
Whether a full turnaround happens is uncertain. Gambling numbers on slot machines and video terminals have been on a slow, but steady, decline these past couple of years. No one has given a full reason why the decline has happened, though pundits have speculated that, 10 to 20 years after the gaming machines became widely available across the United States, players have figured out that slot machines and their legal equivalents elsewhere in the USA are not a good bet. Having been burned by such games, a certain segment of the gambling population stays away from them now.
Mobile Smartphone Gaming
Market saturation is also a concern throughout the United States. Quite simply, more Americans have ready access to gambling now than they did 20 to 25 years ago. People might find less time for land-based gaming, simply because other forms of entertainment exist. Game enthusiasts can find plenty of games to play, simply using their cellphone or smartphone.
Those who enjoy mobile casino games might stay home and play on their mobile smartphone or tablet computer. While online gambling is not legal in Montana, a certain hard core of gamblers are likely to stay home to play on their mobile devices. While these players could not play legally, they can play through offshore gaming operators, at some degree of risk to their bankroll–or their winnings, if they happen to be victorious. Unlicensed offshore operators take advantage of the fact that gamblers won’t go to American authorities, by sometimes withholding cashout payments for spurious reasons.