Jackpot: Montanans hitting slots, sending gaming industry to record revenue

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 11:10:31-05

BILLINGS - Montana is seeing a rising interest in gambling, according to new numbers coming from the American Gaming Association.

The organization tallied up about $60 billion in revenue for the commercial gaming sector nationwide in 2022, surpassing the previous record of $53 billion set in 2021.

Those numbers aren’t too surprising for Josh Benson, the owner of the seven Warden’s casinos in Billings.

“We did see an uptick in our revenue,” he said.

Something he says can also be attributed to a few different things.

“The best part about casinos is, of course, the people,” he said. ‘We really are in the people business and the relationships that we can cultivate here …really make or break our success.”

He says customers come back for companionship, and that’s true for Bill Albertson, who was found at the Warden’s Casino on King Avenue on a snowy and cold February day.

“The folks here are very nice,” said Albertson.

It's just one of the reasons the AGA says gaming is up. The AGA reported Montana saw $55.8 million in economic impact and another $34 million in gross gaming revenue.

“Simply put, American adults are choosing casino gaming for entertainment in record numbers, benefiting communities and taking market share from the predatory illegal marketplace,” said President and CEO Bill Miller.

But the massive rise in revenue doesn’t factor in a major challenge facing business owners like Benson.

Inflation has made the cost of doing business rise, said Benson.

“Everything from toilet paper to supplies to... a can of beer. You couldn’t find canned beer. The cost of everything went up,” said Benson.

It’s a reality that Benson says is impacting all areas of the industry, from finding and pricing out supplies to finding workers and paying a competitive salary.

It's simple economics, according to Benson. The pandemic pumped money into the economy through stimulus checks and unemployment benefit boosts, leaving money in the pockets of consumers and oversaturating the business market.

Covid also took away a person’s ability to be social, something that has since returned and is seen in the entertainment industry.

“Covid created either a feast or famine,” said Benson. “You either did well or you didn’t really do well at all, and no one could plan for it.”

But Alberston agrees, adding now it's nice to get out of the house and have simple companionship.

He says if anything, the dream of striking it rich is a small component of why he frequents Warden’s Casino.

“I think we lose more than we ever win,” he said. ‘But it’s exciting when you do win.”

And if he’s honest, he’s hoping for a bit of luck at a time when many could certainly use it.

“There’s always that one chance in a million.”