Casino slots slide hits hard

Erica Jacobson

After a single-month reprieve in May, the slot machine revenue slide resumed last month at Connecticut’s casinos as gamblers kept a tight rein on slot spending in June, according to numbers released Tuesday.

Despite opening the $700 million MGM Grand expansion May 17, the money put through the roughly 7,200 slot machines at Foxwoods Resort Casino last month was 8.6 percent less than in June 2007.

And, for the first time in its 12-year-history, Mohegan Sun sent less slot revenue — $7.7 million less than in 2006-07 — to the state general fund during Connecticut’s 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The news was “maybe a little worse than we were expecting,” Mitchell Etess, Mohegan Sun president and chief executive, said. “We’re not totally despondent.

“The reality is that people have less money in their pocket.”

Barry Cregan, interim Foxwoods president, said in a statement that his casino is focused on long-term strategies as well as “short-term initiatives that will respond to the current market trends.

“The gaming industry is in the most challenging time in its history,” he said. “This past month saw an industry-wide downturn in revenues fueled by record-breaking gas prices and unstable economic indicators.”

But one Connecticut economist said it is too soon to tell whether the massive expansions under way at Mohegan Sun or just completed at Foxwoods were mistakes or just mistimed.

“I don’t see any end-of-the-world significance to this yet,” said Arthur Wright, an editor at Connecticut Economy and a retired University of Connecticut economics professor. “I don’t think two months is enough time to know if it has plateaued.”

Where competition from combination racetracks and casinos in New York and Rhode Island might have waned in the face of the new offerings, he said, other such economic forces as gas prices have come into play.

“If there’s an attractive venue in the way,” Wright said, “you’re more likely to stop.”

Both casinos recently have made moves to reduce their work force in response to the sagging economy. Nearly 200 middle managers at Foxwoods were laid off in late June, and Mohegan Sun said it plans to trim about 600 employees through attrition.

For June, Foxwoods slot revenue — the amount of money not paid back to gamblers — was $63.6 million, down 8.9 percent from the same month last year. At Mohegan Sun, June slot revenue was $67.8 million, also down 8.9 percent from a year ago. Combined, the casinos will send $32.8 million to the general fund, $2.7 million less than in June 2007.

Bob McGlothin, a contractor from Milford, Mass., was playing the $1 slots at the MGM Grand portion of Foxwoods Tuesday afternoon. Where he used to come down a few times a month to play at Connecticut’s casinos, his trips are getting fewer.

“Definitely gas is an issue,” McGlothin said. “Things are tighter.”

Norwich Bulletin

What’s next

Mohegan Sun: The Casino of the Wind is scheduled to open Aug. 29. It is expected to have 826 slot machines, 42 poker tables and 28 table games.

Foxwoods: The Mashantucket Pequots have declined to bargain with 2,600 table game dealers who voted to organize under the United Auto Workers. The National Labor Relations Board must rule on a charge of unfair labor practices filed by the union.