By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Revenue from Indian-operated gambling in Alabama is no longer growing faster than any other state.
A new Indian Gaming Industry Report by Casino City Press says Alabama ranked fourth in growth for 2012 with 10.8 percent. The previous editions of the report ranked Alabama number one for revenue growth among all states from 2008 to 2011, with Alabama experiencing a 26.4 percent growth in 2011.
The study's author, economist Alan P. Meister of Irvine, Calif., said despite the slower growth rate in Alabama, the revenue from Indian gambling still grew five times faster than the national average of 2 percent.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates all the Indian gambling in Alabama. The tribe has casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Their casinos have electronic games, but no table games like casinos in Nevada and Mississippi. The Poarch Creeks are among 243 tribes conducting gambling in 28 states.
Meister said the Poarch Creeks led the country for several years in growth because they started with a small base in Atmore and expanded quickly. They also grew rapidly because state officials worked to shut down privately operated casinos in 2010, such as VictoryLand in Shorter. He said customers from the private casinos were absorbed into Creek's market before 2012, but the tribe still grew its gambling revenue by nearly 11 percent.
"That's still pretty significant growth given the slow-growth economy we are in," he said.
His report does not list any revenue figures for Alabama because of confidentiality agreements. But he noted that the Poarch Creek's increased the number of gambling machines they operated in Alabama in 2012 by 13.5 percent to 4,769, which was another sign of growth.
That's the opposite of Mississippi. Meister said the Mississippi Band of Choctaws saw revenue dip 6 percent, and the tribe reduced the numbers of machines and table games it operated.
Looking at the future of Indian gambling in Alabama, Meister said the full impact of the Poarch Creek's new Wetumpka casino won't be known until the 2014 growth figures are in because the casino opened too late in 2013 to have much impact on that year.
He also noted that the state attorney general's office filed a lawsuit in February 2013 aimed at shutting down the casinos, but the National Indian Gaming Commission affirmed later in 2013 that the tribe is operating legally under federal law.