Nevada casinos had big February, before coronavirus closures

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Norma Jean Ortega / Special to the Sun

A local gambler plays simultaneously on two coin slot machines after winning a big jackpot at El Cortez Casino, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019.

Thu, Mar 26, 2020 (9:30 a.m.)

Before closing in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak, Nevada casinos had a very good February — taking in more than $1 billion in house winnings for the third month in a row, regulators reported Thursday.

The statewide “casino win” figure of $1.04 billion was slightly higher than in January, and a little more than 3% greater than February 2019, the Nevada Gaming Control Board said.

Board analyst Michael Lawton attributed the third-highest figures ever in February to the calendar, including a leap-year extra day, and clear winter weather in Northern Nevada.

“There were no storms in February compared to last winter,” Lawton said. “That helped bolster the numbers.”

Casino winnings in Reno and Washoe County jumped a whopping 27.1% and South Lake Tahoe properties reported a nearly 21.4% jump in the year-over-year comparison.

Las Vegas Strip casino winnings were flat for February and downtown Las Vegas properties were down 4.1%.

The state collected $68.9 million in gambling taxes based on the monthly figure, up 15.6% from February 2019.

Casino taxes are second to sales taxes as a percentage of Nevada's annual budget, and casino winnings are a key indicator of state fiscal health. Nevada has no personal income tax.

Slot machine winnings were up 6.6% in the year-to-year comparison, based largely on volume. Table games like blackjack and roulette were up a modest 2.3%.

Sports book winnings increased 6.3% and set a monthly record for volume, up 7.2%. Lawton said that could have been due to Super Bowl betting.

Baccarat, a popular game among Asian gamblers, was down 11.5%, but Lawton noted that the Chinese Lunar New Year fell in January this year. Travel from China to the U.S. was curtailed in February due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Data for March will be reported in late April.

“We'll see how large the decreases are," Lawton said.

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