April 7, 2020 Update: The Economic Impact the Coronavirus is Having on Tribal Gaming and the U.S. Economy

Alan P. Meister, Ph.D.
CEO & Principal Economist
Meister Economic Consulting

Over the past couple of months, Americans have felt the growing impact of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  With growing concerns and no quick or easy remedy in sight, this international health crisis is altering many facets of our lives, including how we work, play, learn, and shop.  As a result, the coronavirus is having a significant negative impact on local, regional, and national economies.

Nowhere has this impact been felt deeper than in the U.S. casino industry, where closures of casinos and their non-gaming amenities have effectively shut down the entire industry across the country for roughly two weeks now.  This affects 246 tribes with over 500 gaming facilities operated in 29 states.

These closures are causing significant detriment to Native American tribes, many of which rely heavily on gaming related revenue to pay for tribal government operations, infrastructure, and social and economic programs and services for a Native American population that is already substantially disadvantaged.

Based on our long history of researching and analyzing Indian gaming over the past two decades and accumulated data from 16 years of conducting the Indian Gaming Industry Report (published by Casino City Press), our economists at Meister Economic Consulting have estimated the following two-week impacts on the U.S. economy while tribal casinos have been closed:

  • $4.4 billion in lost economic activity;
  • 728,000 people out of work;
  • $969 million in lost wages; and
  • $631 million in lost taxes and revenue sharing received by federal, state, and local governments.

This includes the direct effect at tribal casinos, as well as the secondary effects on tribal governments, vendors, employees, and federal, state, and local governments.

The two-week closure impacts directly at tribal casinos alone are estimated as follows:

  • $1.5 billion in lost economic activity (i.e., gaming and non-gaming revenue to casinos);
  • 296,000 people out of work;
  • $332 million in lost wages; and
  • $240 million in lost taxes and revenue sharing received by federal, state, and local governments.

It is noted that some of the aforementioned losses in wages and taxes have been temporarily mitigated by casinos that have continued to pay wages and provide benefits to employees in their early stage of closure.  However, these situations are in flux and data are incomplete at this time.  Conservatively, lost benefits are not factored into lost wages at all as many tribal casinos have continued to provide benefits.

The negative impacts on tribes and the economy will continue to mount as tribal casinos remain closed.  Meister Economic Consulting will update the figures here on this webpage on a regular two-week basis.

As a way to assist those in need in this time of uncertainty, Meister Economic Consulting will donate to Native American charities 10% of proceeds from all coronavirus impact research and analysis.

We hope that you, your colleagues, and your family members are safe and healthy!