Economy Affecting Oklahoma Casinos

Wednesday, February 4th 2009, 10:24 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

CATOOSA, OK -- The economy has casinos nationwide grasping for air, trying to cover their bets.

The News On 6 looked into whether Oklahoma's casinos are dealing with the same deck of cards.

Lynda Garrett is a regular on the slots at Cherokee Casino. She says she usually spends $400-$500 when she goes but the slumping economy is causing her to be thriftier.

"Utilities have really affected us because the electricity gone up again, you know, just went up," she said.

Garrett is not alone. There are fewer people gambling at casinos nationwide.

The ones who are gambling spend less money.

According to newly released numbers, U.S. casino and racetrack revenues fell 3.5 percent in 2008 -- $36.2 billion.

Revenues are down twice that much in destination markets like Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

"There are companies out there that borrowed a lot of money to build huge casinos, and if they're relying on that traveler to jump on an airplane and stay in an expensive hotel room then that's a problem and that's what we're seeing," said David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation Enterprises.

Stewart says the Cherokee Casino has seen 20 to 30 percent growth in years past, but in 2008, it saw business flatten out.

But still he says the gambling industry in Oklahoma is a safe bet.

"Well, given the economy ... I think flat is up," he said. "That's kind of the new term. So we weren't really worried."

He says business is already picking back up this year, a sign that Oklahoma casinos are playing with a different deck of cards.

"One thing we've found is that people will be entertained one way or the other," Stewart said. "So they will find the most efficient and low cost way to do that."