Gaming report highlights 2020 challenges, optimism for industry growth

Every two years, the Nevada Resort Association releases a report chronicling the local tourism and hospitality industries’ economic activity. This year’s report was bleak.

The 2021 Nevada Gaming Fact Book, published Tuesday, highlights the lost jobs, business closures and lack of business and leisure travel the state faced last year.

“2020 was an unimaginable year for Nevadans when the state’s primary industry came to a standstill,” Ellen Whittemore, chair of the Nevada Resort Association’s Board of Directors and executive vice president and general counsel for Wynn Resorts Ltd., said in a Tuesday news release. “No state was hit harder by the economic ramifications of the pandemic than Nevada.”

Despite the hardships, heads of the resort association remain optimistic about the days ahead.

Optimism looking forward

The report, compiled by economic research and analysis consultancy Applied Analysis, found the COVID-19 health crisis set off the worst economic downturn the state’s tourism industry has ever experienced.

The hotel-casino shutdown in mid-March prompted the state’s leisure and hospitality sector, which typically employs more than one-fourth of Nevada’s total workforce, to lose roughly 145,000 jobs by April, accounting for 37 percent of the state’s unemployment insurance claims. Employment in this sector dropped to levels not seen since 1993, and only just recovered to 2010 levels in December.

Gross gaming revenue from large, nonrestricted gaming licensees dropped 22 percent in 2020 compared with the previous fiscal year, and statewide visitation rates dropped 25 percent in that time frame.

Despite a series of challenges in 2020, Whittemore said the industry remains “responsive, resilient and adaptive.”

“As the economic lifeblood of this state and largest employment sector, the resort industry is doing all it can to help Nevada’s economy recover and to bring more people back to work as soon as possible,” she said.

The head of the Nevada Resort Association — an advocacy voice that represents 76 gaming resorts — believes recovery will take time but has found “many reasons” to be optimistic. She pointed to the decline of COVID-19 cases and easing capacity restrictions on businesses across the state.

“Vaccinations are happening, and available supply of available vaccines continues to grow,” Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said. “There are encouraging signs in consumers’ readiness to travel, and we know there is a pent-up demand from business and leisure travelers to return to Nevada.”

Projects ahead

Despite a challenging operating environment, the report says Nevada hotel-casino companies continue to hold their titles as the state’s largest property taxpayers. These businesses account for eight of the top 10 highest-appraised taxpayers in Clark County and four of the top 10 spots in Washoe County.

Even so, contributions to the state have suffered. The industry provided about $1.3 billion from industry-specific taxes to the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2020. Those taxes were down 60 percent in the first half of the 2020 calendar year compared with the previous year.

The report also highlighted numerous tourism developments slated to go online.

According to the report, there are 42 tourism investment expenditures either planned or under construction in Nevada worth a combined $15.5 billion. Nearly 83 percent of those projects are in Las Vegas, including Resorts World Las Vegas, the MSG Sphere, the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and the Las Vegas monorail extension.

Contact Bailey Schulz at [email protected]. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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