States of the States in Casinoland: Cornfields and Dreamfields
Summary: An overview of casino spread in the United States (1) Looks at locations and fiscal markers of “cornfield casinos” in Iowa, a thinly-populated state that has eighteen commercial casinos and two Indian ones. (2) Discusses likely rationales for two sites proposed for new casinos in Iowa. (3) A table using figures from the American Gaming Association web site compares year-2012 fiscal data for commercial casinos or racetrack electronic gaming devices among all twenty-three states that have either or both. States can be ranked on characteristics such as “win per capita” or taxes paid to government.
Talking with someone from a very small city in NY (pop 900) proposed as casino site, I remarked naively that it must be unique in the country in being a truly rural community into which a commercial casino might come. I had thought all commercial casinos are in suburbs, exurbs or fair-sized towns when not in big cities. Iowa then came to mind as predominantly rural but with commercial casinos.
A look at that state surprised me. Iowa has fifteen commercial casinos classed as “riverboats,” three tracks with electronic gambling devices (EGDs) and two Indian casinos. It is hard to understand how the state could support so many; yet it is considering two more. This count led me to compare Iowa to other states as to number, size and locations of casinos. Two questions arose: (1) were impacts on small rural communities assessed in any way by independent studies? (2) how did landlocked rural casinos fare financially compared to ones at riverside or more urban settings?
Question 1 is a rapid dead end. No. Question 2 opened a window on the United States as casinoland that this essay props wide.
To imagine from the Iowa experience what a very small rural community in upstate NY might expect from a casino’s arrival, I picked four similar locales in Iowa that now have casinos and one (Jefferson, in Green County) for which a casino is proposed. Click here for a map. Four locales were chosen by developers. One, in Tama (Tama County), is Indian-operated and was thus not free to roam. Because it is a small “city” like the other four and evidently a test case for new competition while Iowa plans more casinos, I included Tama.
Emmetsburg, pop 3900, is home since 2006 to the Wild Rose Casino (550 slots, 17 table games, or TGs). The casino is right in town on (literally) Main Street, US Rte 18, which crosses the state. Emmetsburg is the County Seat of Palo Alto County, with a population density of 16.5/sq mile it ranks 84th out of 99 in the state (Iowa pop. density is about 54/sq mi). The town’s web site shows merited civic pride in history. A report by a consulting group in 2009 commented that there are no communities of much size nearby, though Highway 18 eases travel. The report stated that win/admission ratio (“win” means “gaming revenue” of course) and gaming revenue in first two full years were below most other markets in Iowa. This is still true through FY 2013.
Northwood, pop 1989, hosts the Diamond Jo Worth casino with 1000 slots and 32 TGs. The casino is right off I-35, ( 9 mi west of the center of town) about 25 mi south of I-90 as it traverses southern Minnesota. Click here for Christmas Greetings from the casino in 2009. Worth County , with population density of 18.9 / sq mi, ranks 76th in the state. The report by a consulting group in 2009 remarked that the casino’s nearness to I-35 brought Mason City into its reach at the time. In its first two years the casino had an “win”/admission ratio and adjusted gross gambling revenues that outdid the state average.
Larchwood (pop. 866) is the city in Iowa most remote from the capital, Des Moines. Lyon County ranks 75th in state in pop density, at 19.7. In the northwest corner of Iowa, Larchwood saw in 2011 the rapid opening of the Grand Falls casino, which cost $120 million and offers 900 slots. Tables games are now up to thirty-seven. This casino was obviously sited to capture Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the largest city in that state. A website blurb says it’s just eight minutes from Sioux Falls. Actually eight miles from the extreme eastern side, it is more like 15 mi and 25 minutes from the center of the city. The manager of the Grand Falls casino told a reporter that she expected an annual revenue of $70 million, with 80% to come from out-of-staters.
South Dakota on the AGA listing ( see table below ) has thirty-five (35) “casinos” but total “gaming” revenue is only $107M with revenue to state only $ 16.6M. [Note well: these data may be wrong, but are copied correctly from the web site.] I did not research the state in detail but would guess that many of the “casinos” are like Borrowed Buck’s Roadhouse, the only “casino” in Sioux Falls that shows on a commercial website map It has ten (10) VLTs, pool tables and foosball. South Dakota had decided, upon legalizing casinos, to put all its real commercial casinos in one town, Deadwood, almost 400 miles from Sioux Falls. Since 1989 S. D. has had video lottery. In FY 2013 an average of 9133 machines operated in the state in an average of 1426 establishments. The nearest real casino to S.F. is an Indian one at Flandreau, 44 miles away. A casino in nearer-by Larchwood was supposed to appeal to people in Sioux Falls who want live table games and lots of slots.
In Larchwood gaming revenue has not reached the anticipated 70 M . At 59 M for 2012 it was in the red $ 4.8 million. Adjusted gross revenue in 2013 was $58 million, and the “win”/capita $46 in FY 2013, below the state average. It may be that Sioux Falls gamblers find the convenient VLTs in town surpass the call of the casino.
These three active commercial casinos can be compared in the table to the fifteen “riverboat” casinos in Iowa, which includes them. Data are for FY 2013 Some figures are rounded-off.