Battered by baccarat, Las Vegas Strip drags down Nevada casino winnings in February

Associated Press

Nevada's casinos won $916 million in February, but it was less than they won a year ago and still a ways from the state's more than $1 billion winning high-point two years ago.

The Las Vegas Strip lagged, dragging down the state's overall numbers.

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The Nevada Gaming Control Board released its latest statistics Tuesday. They showed the amount casinos won from gamblers rose everywhere except the Strip, where winnings declined 4.38 percent to $531 million.

But why did casinos in downtown Las Vegas' Fremont Street, Reno, South Lake Tahoe and everywhere else get lucky?

"Well, they don't have baccarat," senior research analyst Michael Lawton said of the card game that can be highly lucrative but also highly volatile as it swings in favor of the player or the casino.

Not even Chinese New Year or the Super Bowl could boost the numbers. There were even slightly more visitors to Las Vegas in February, a total of 3.16 million, according to the latest Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority figures.

Baccarat accounted for about 14 percent of the state's gambling win for the month, but it was down nearly 24 percent in February compared with a year ago. And it's been down for six of the past seven months, Lawton said.

Overall volume, the total amount bet on the game, was down for the sixth month in a row, and this time by nearly 24 percent, he said.

That volume is what concerns Brent Pirosch a Las Vegas-based gambling analyst for real estate firm CBRE.

"Baccarat volumes are where they were in the recession era," he said in an emailed report. "If the math kicks back in to the players' favor, substantial declines could be on the horizon."

Lawton said he suspects the declines in baccarat might even out for comparison purposes by August when the Chinese government began an anticorruption campaign that has been tied to drops in the gambling enclave of Macau. It doesn't appear that the campaign sent Asian baccarat players elsewhere, he said.

"If it was going to help Las Vegas, that hasn't happened," he said. "These customers are being cautious."

On the bright side, Lawton said every part of the state, including the Strip, saw more slot machine winnings. And it was the third month in a row that the total amount wagered in slots rose.

Slot machine winnings were up 4.52 percent to $245 million on the Las Vegas Strip.

Lawton's report says fees collected by the state in February dropped 1.64 percent compared with a year ago, to nearly $58 million.