Las Vegas casinos are surprisingly unprofitable

Last update: May 2022

Most people think casinos are raking in the dough because the odds are in their favor and their decor screams opulence.  The truth is that lots of casinos struggle, and a fair number actually go bankrupt, because while revenues are high, expenses are often higher (employee salaries, utilities, and the rent or loan payment on the building and furnishings).

People often mention Donald Trump's four bankruptcies with his Atlantic City casinos as evidence of the difficulty in running casinos profitably, but in his case the reason was different.  Trump's casinos tanked because he "borrowed money at such high interest rates—after telling regulators he would not—that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed." (NYT)  Trump did extract lots of wealth from the casino business for himself personally while letting the investors who trusted him take the hit.  It's a matter of debate as to whether that kind of fraud was his plan all along, or whether he was just a fantastically lousy businessman that he couldn't make his casinos succeed when the Atlantic City market in general was thriving, though given that we know that he's been involved in financial fraud for decades, the former certainly seems more plausible.  In any event, Vegas casinos have struggled for entirely different reasons.

Gambling is becoming less popular (ongoing)

One reason casinos are doing so poorly is that gambling revenues are going down.  That's primarily because as older gamblers pass on, they're not being replaced by as many millennials.  Also, as casinos have tightened the games and hotels have increased their nickel-and-diming of guests, I imagine that more and more potential visitors are deciding to skip Vegas (or if they come to Vegas, to at least skip the gambling floor).

Gambling revenue is plummeting

Las Vegas Nevada
2007 (peak) $8.5B • 49,891 machines $15.9B • 180,666 machines
2019 $6.6B • 38,864 machines $12.0B • 144,593 machines
Revenue figures are adjusted for inflation (reported in 2019 dollars).
More slots stats on the slots page. Sources: 2007, 2019

2021 losses

Caesars Entertainment (which owns several casinos on the Strip) posted a loss of $1 billion for 2021. (source)

Devastated by coronavirus (2020-21)

  1. Wynn lost $2.1 billion in 2020. (MarketBeat)
  2. Sands lost $2.1 billion in 2020. (Sands)  Sands operated the Venetian and Palazzo, but its main business is actually in Asia.
  3. Caesars Entertainment lost $1.8 billion in 2020.  Note that Caesars Entertainment isn't just Caesars Palace; the company owns lots of casinos. (Caesars)
  4. MGM Resorts lost $1 billion in 2020.  Analysts figured that MGM burned through a staggering $14 million per day while its casinos were shuttered.  Even though they reopened soon, they still took a big hit. (MacroTrends)  Note that MGM Resorts isn't just the MGM Grand; the company owns a lots of casinos.
  5. Red Rock Resorts lost $175 million in 2020. (PR Newswire)  Red Rock is the parent company of Station Casinos, which operates the Palms and a number of locals casinos, as well as about a dozen casinos elsewhere in Nevada.
  6. Boyd Gaming lost $135 million in 2020. (Boyd)  Boyd operates three casinos downtown and a number of locals casinos.

U.S. casino companies take a hit in China (2020)

Before Vegas shut down due to COVID-19, casinos in Macau, China did, and many of them are owned by U.S. companies like MGM (which operates several casinos on the Vegas Strip), Sands (ditto), and Wynn.  When their Macau casinos closed, it reportedly cost the owners a whopping $167M/mo. (Sands), $100M/mo. (Wynn), and $56M/mo. (MGM). (CNBC)

SLS flirting with bankruptcy (2014-19)

SLS replaced the Sahara in 2014, and lost money every year through 2017, and as of Dec. 2017, was reportedly facing bankruptcy. (LVRJ)  I couldn't find profitability figures for 2018 and 2019, because privately-owned casinos are no longer required to report their finances. (LVRJ)  In August 2019, SLS wisely changed its name back to Sahara.

MGM Resorts unprofitable for 7 out of 8 years, losing $3 billion during that time (2008-15)

MGM Resorts, which owns a whopping 10 of the 29 strip casinos, suffered the following losses:

2015:  $448M loss
2014:  $150M loss
2013:  $172M loss
2012:  $1,800M loss
2011:  $3,100M profit
2010:  $1,400M loss
2009:  $1,300M loss
2008:  $900M loss     (Source: MacroTrends)

Luckily for them, they were profitable from 2016-19, though they then lost $1 billion in 2020.

MGM started selling off its casino real estate in 2019 (Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and even the MGM Grand) to get some desperately-needed cash.  MGM continues to operate the casinos, paying rent to the new property owner.  That's got to be sad for them:  MGM doesn't even own its own MGM Grand! (MarketWatch)

Lucky Dragon goes bankrupt 15 months after opening (2018)

Lucky Dragon was the first resort property to be built from the ground-up after the Cosmopolitan in 2010.  It opened in November 2016, shuttered the casino in Jan. 2018, and filed for bankruptcy in Feb. 2018.  The hotel is still operating as of March 2018.  (LV Review-Journal)

Caesars files for bankruptcy (2015)

Caesars Entertainment, which owns 10 properties on the Strip and is the largest U.S. casino operator, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Jan. 2015, erasing about $10 billion in debt.  (It's funny how they can use legal maneuvers to get out of paying what they owe, while if you stole a $5 chip from the casino you'd go to jail.)  It emerged from bankruptcy in Oct. 2017.  (Fortune, LVRJ)

Riviera goes bankrupt and closes (2010-16)

A popular strip casino which appeared in several movies, it filed for bankruptcy in 2010, closed for good in 2015, and was demolished in 2016. (WP)

Terrible’s goes bankrupt (2009)

Terrible's, which owned a few casinos in Nevada, including one in Las Vegas, went bankrupt in 2009. (WP)

Aladdin goes bankrupt (2001)

The Aladdin casino filed a $1.2 billion bankruptcy in 2001.  The property would eventually become Planet Hollywood. (Las Vegas Sun)

Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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