US tribal gaming revenue breaks records in 2021

Updated by Loren Oller verified symbol on September 05, 2022

The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has reported two record-breaking statistics for 2021. The total gaming revenue from tribal gaming operations hit a record high of $39 billion USD. In addition, the 40 % annual growth over 2020 numbers also sets a record pace.

A strong bounce from the Covid freeze

The 2020 gaming revenue was strongly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. With fewer players venturing into brick-and-mortar casinos, the statistics show a noticeable dip: the $28 billion total revenue represents an almost 20 % dip from the previous year. So, it’s no wonder 2021 shows a healthy 40 % bounce compared to a difficult year with lockdowns.

In terms of gauging a long trend, a more informative point of comparison would be the gaming revenue for 2019. From those numbers, 2021 revenue is up only 13 %. Still impressive, but also something that could be maintained in the long term.

Unequal recovery

Although the overall number is up, NIGC chairman Sequoyah Simermeyer notes that 2021 recovery of gaming revenues hasn’t come equally to all tribes. The year was still difficult for many, and the help and support from the organization was needed.

“NIGC recognizes this year’s rebound has not been felt equally by all tribes.” 

Simermeyer also highlighted the need for the tribal gaming industry participants to share their experiences and help everyone be better prepared for similar situations in the future.

“We are committed to helping all tribal operations benefit from the regulatory lessons learned over the past two years.”

Although many have felt the effects of Covid longer than anticipated, the overall growth isn’t just due to the success of a few big operators. According to the NIGC vice chair Jeannie Hovland, the industry has faired very well, and there’s cause for celebration.

“With 43 gaming operations reporting GGR greater than $250m and accounting for more than 50% of total revenues, this year’s revenues underscore the wide diversity in gaming operations across Indian country.”

Competition between tribal and commercial gambling continues

In 2020, both tribal and commercial gambling operations were disturbed by Covid-19 lockdowns. For the first time ever, tribal gambling revenue surpassed the commercial sector. This is interesting: in 2020 Indian gaming was suffering from a 20 % year-over-year slump during the worst outbreaks. However, it still managed to outperform the commercial gaming operations, which were down more than 31 % year-over-year.

According to a quarterly report by the American Gaming Association, commercial casinos lost 27 % of normal operating days in 2020. These were due to the mandatory Covid-19 closures and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. After reopening, many casinos were cautious and operated at reduced capacity and with limited amenities.

In 2021, the tables have turned. Commercial gambling has had an even stronger recovery, having already surpassed tribal gaming by a wide margin. Whereas Indian gambling revenue rose to $39 billion with a 40 % bounce, commercial gaming grew from $30 billion to a whopping $53 billion. This represents a 77 % increase.

In 2022, commercial casinos have had an even more impressive start. With the pent-up demand for leisure travel increasing, land-based casinos are having a hay-day. The first quarter of 2022 set new commercial gambling records with a $14 billion revenue and 29 % year-over-year growth.

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