Pennsylvania's 11 casinos pulled in more than $233.1 million in gross slot machine revenue last month, setting an all-time monthly high since the state's first casino opened in November 2006 and cementing the state's status as the nation's second-largest gambling market.
The slots totals released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board include revenue from two test nights and one day of operations at the state's 11th casino, Valley Forge Casino Resort, which opened Saturday. Overall, the figures broke the previous monthly record of $218.3 million set in July, and they represent an 8.5 percent increase over March 2011.
"Virtually every jurisdiction in the country would kill for that kind of growth, especially in a sluggish economy," said Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey casino consulting firm, who called the state the "envy of the casino industry."
When slots and table game revenues are combined, Pennsylvania has surpassed New Jersey and grown into the second-largest casino market in the country behind Las Vegas. The two traded places in July, Weinert said, and, by January, Pennsylvania had grown into a $3.66 billion market, compared to a $3.3 billion market for New Jersey.
For the first two months of 2012, Pennsylvania casinos tallied $515.7 million in gross revenue when slots and tables are combined, according to gaming board figures. During the same period, New Jersey reported comparable gross revenue of $479.6 million.
Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania gaming board, said the March figures simply show that the state's market is growing, with each casino showing improvement over the year before.
"It still shows that the Pennsylvania market is still expanding," McGarvey said. "It just shows that the casinos are still drawing more patrons in."
The numbers also show evidence of the increasing competition. Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack, which is just outside Philadelphia, was up less than a percent over the year before, as it faces competition from Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia, Parx Casino in Bensalem, casinos in neighboring states and now the new casino in Valley Forge.
Valley Forge, a smaller resort casino expected to attract a more high-end clientele, brought in more than $500,000 in the three days recorded. Sugarhouse posted a 25 percent increase over last March, while Parx saw an 8.7 percent increase.
In July 2004, the state Legislature approved legislation legalizing up to 14 slot-machine casinos in Pennsylvania. The state's first casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, opened for business two years later. The state taxes casino revenue and uses it to support the state budget, public schools, civic development projects, volunteer firefighting squads, local governments and the horse racing industry.
The law also calls for a second casino in Philadelphia, but that remains in limbo. A resort outside Pittsburgh was awarded the second resort license, but that decision is being challenged in the state Supreme Court. The final license is tied to a yet-to-be-built racetrack.
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J., contributed to this report.