Fire Rock nets $11.5 million in 4th quarter

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 8, 2012

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F igures released by the New Mexico Gaming Control Board in February show that the Fire Rock Navajo Casino is still doing great business.

Every quarter, the gaming control board releases what they call the "net win" amount of Indian casinos in the state.

That's defined as the amount wagered on gaming machines, less the amount paid out in cash and non-cash prizes won on the gaming machines, as well as any state or tribal regulatory fees.

Both the control board and officials for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise say that this is not to be considered net profits since the casino still pay operating expenses and other payments.

The figures also don't include the amount Fire Rock makes in its table games, like poker, or how much revenue is generated by its restaurants. Or for those casinos that have hotels as well.

But the figures give a good indication of how much money is being spent on slot machines in the casino.

For the fourth quarter of 2011, the net win figure for Fire Rock was $11.5 million. In the other three quarters, the casino posted figures of $10.8 million, $11.3 million and $12.5 million, which indicates that play at the casino was fairly consistent throughout the year.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, the casino posted figures of $10.9 million so the 2011 figures show a slight increase.

The figures also show that the casino is not losing any business to the other casinos in the area. Casinos run by the Laguna and Acoma pueblos continue to be between 10 and 20 percent from the levels they posted in 2009 before Fire Rock opened.

Using these figures, this would indicate that the casino is generating about $3.2 million a month in slot play. Gaming enterprise officials have indicated that payroll at the casino is between $1 million to $1.2 million a month.

This goes with other figures that have been stated by the president's office and others that indicate that Fire Rock's net profits are somewhere in the vicinity of $800,000 to $1 million a month, but some or most of this may be used to repay construction and development loans to the tribe.

The state provides these figures only for Class III casinos, like Fire Rock. Class II casinos, like the one the Navajo Nation has in Hogback, do not have to share its revenues with the state and therefore their net win amount is not listed.

The tribe's newest casino, Northern Edge, in Upper Fruitland, will have to report its revenues to the state so these figures will be available in the future along with the figures for Fire Rock.

The gaming control board's website said that because of the compacts tribes have with the state of New Mexico, they paid a total of $15.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 to the state based on total revenues that quarter of $171 million.

That indicates that the tribes paid about 9 percent to the state, which would indicate that the Navajo Nation's payment to the state was about $1 million for that quarter.

Bob Winter, CEO of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, said there is a dispute going on between the tribes and the state over what is called "free play."

Casinos frequently give customers free play on slot machines to entice them to come in. Many of the casinos, for example, that cater to truckers on Interstate 40 give them $5 in free play to encourage them to stop and play at their casino.

Winter said the state now wants the casinos to include that free play amount in their revenue figures so that the state would get more money. This is expected to play a major role when tribes renew their compacts with the state.

But it's not expected to be an issue with the Navajos, said Winter, first because the Navajos use a different accounting system than the other tribes do that takes this into account and secondly, because the Navajo casinos don't give out that much free play.

None of the Navajo's three casinos are trying to attract truckers, although Northern Edge is getting some business from truckers. The effort to get truckers will take place when the tribe opens its casinos in Arizona long Interstate 40 in 2012 and 2013.

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