If casinos didn’t get the cash, who did?

Aug. 7-8: Cerebral Palsy Telethon (Houma)
August 3, 2010
Houma’s next power plant may be in M.C.
August 5, 2010

Louisiana casinos and video poker businesses just finished an off-year, at least by recent standards.

The take from players – the amount lost at card tables, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like in state-licensed casinos, along with video poker machines in truck stops, off-track betting parlors and bars – totaled $2.97 billion for the state’s fiscal year that ended on June 30.

That’s a 7.2 percent drop from $3.2 billion take during the 2008-09 fiscal year. The slump is probably tied to the national economic downturn as gamblers make tougher choices about financial responsibilities.

Still, $2.97 billion is a chunk of change. Now, that’s just the “net win” – the difference between what was paid out and what was kept by casinos and businesses with video poker machines. The state lines up for an impressive chunk in taxes, too, so the billions aren’t pure profit.

But what does $2.97 billion represent in the overall economy? Time to get the calculator:

• It could purchase 16,167 houses valued at $183,700, the median national price for an existing home in June as reported by the National Association of Realtors.

• It could pay for 118,800 vehicles with a sticker price of $25,000, or for economy-minded drivers, 198,000 vehicles with an average sticker price of $15,000. Car dealers likely would smile about that; General Motors Co. sold 195,000 vehicles in June, while Ford Motor Co. sold 171,000.

• It would cover 5.94 million grocery bills of $500 each.

• At a gasoline price of $2.60 per gallon, $2.97 billion would buy 63.5 million fillups of an 18-gallon tank.

• It would pay for about 14.9 million monthly utility bills of $200 each.

• It would pay off 297,000 credit card balances of $10,000.

• With people supposedly saving more these days, $2.97 billion, in savings accounts offering a miserly 1 percent interest, would return $29.7 million in straight interest in a year. If placed in, say, a municipal bond mutual fund returning 4 percent, it would accumulate $118.8 million in interest in a year.

• How about sending the kids to college? Well, $2.97 billion, according to Tulane University’s estimates for the 2010-11 school year, would cover the first-year expenses of an incoming class of about 55,000 students.

But almost everyone likes to have fun money. How about if the $2.97 billion simply went to entertainment – other than wagering?

• It would buy 297 million $10 movie tickets.

• It would cover 29.7 million dinner tabs of $100.

• Want to take a trip? It would pay for nearly 1.49 million vacations averaging $2,000 each.

• For the stay-at-home types, $2.97 billion would cover just over 37 million cable or satellite TV bills of the $80 variety, or monthly mail video service fee of $8.99 for 330.3 million subscribers. Readers could buy 99 million hardback books at $30 each, or 371.2 million paperbacks at $8 each.

This mini-analysis doesn’t include Indian reservation casinos, which aren’t required to report their revenue to the state.

On the other side, it doesn’t include the economic impact casinos have: jobs, payrolls, purchases, etc. And the publicly traded casino companies haven’t exactly been awash in net profits over the past year.

The American Gaming Association says that nationwide in 2009, revenue in the 22 casino states totaled $30.74 billion and produced $13.1 billion in wages, benefits and tips for 328,000 people. In Louisiana – not counting pure video poker outlets – the 2009 calendar tally produced $602.5 million for just under 18,000 employees.

People, including some economists, argue about whether gambling has an all-around economic benefit – or doesn’t make up for the money pulled from other economic sectors. Any analysis may be a bit suspect, since the question of legalizing gambling does draw strong pro and con stands.

The argument also can be made that an analysis such as this could be applied to any sector of consumer spending.

But there’s one undeniable economic fact: The same dollar can’t be in two places at once.

– Alan Sayre is the New Orleans-based business writer for The Associated Press.