Casinos Could Benefit From US Senate’s Newly Introduced $2.25bn Tourism Industry Relief Bill

  • The STEP Act was introduced on Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators
  • The Act would modify Economic Development Administration programs to fund grants
  • $2.25bn would be targeted toward tourism and event entities
  • Nevada’s $7.87bn in gaming revenue in 2020 was its lowest yearly total since 1996
Toy truck on a laptop carrying roles of cash
The STEP Act aims to provide $2.25bn in grant relief to US companies in the tourism industry – likely including casinos – that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Working across the aisle

A bipartisan quartet of US senators has announced new legislation aimed at bolstering companies “involved in promoting and hosting tourism, travel, or other special events” because of the massive hit they have taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D – Nev.), the group includes Sen. Roy Blunt (R – Mo.), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R – ND), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D – Minn.). Considering the target industry and the fact that the lead sponsor is from Nevada, it is highly likely that should the Sustaining Tourism Enterprises During the COVID–19 Pandemic (STEP) Act pass, casino companies will be a part of the relief package.

ensure we promote safe travel and tourism for both visitors and workers” 

“This legislation will help our struggling tourism marketing and convention entities and ensure we promote safe travel and tourism for both visitors and workers,” said Sen. Cortez Masto in a statement on Thursday.

The STEP Act does not reinvent the wheel, but rather modifies relevant Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant programs. As Sen. Blunt said: “The STEP Act utilizes an existing program to direct much-needed support to tourism-related businesses as our economy works its way back to full speed.”

Helping the industry, not fat cats

The senators’ press release emphasizes that during economic downturns, it is the travel industry – and by extension, hospitality and other travel-related industries – that take the longest to recover. The STEP Act aims to take $2.25bn in EDA funds and distribute them via grants to tourism and event organizations.

Companies that access the grants can use the money in a number of ways, including funding tourism marketing and promotion, paying for the costs of educating visitors on health and safety measures, and paying for cleaning and sanitizing. The funds can also go toward paying salaries and operating expenses, though executive salaries are off limits.

this important industry could be one of the last to fully recover from impact of COVID-19”

Stressing how much the travel and tourism industry needs a hand, Sen. Cramer said: “As a former North Dakota Tourism Director, I know how much states rely on tourism for jobs and funding, but this important industry could be one of the last to fully recover from impact of COVID-19.”

Nevada would welcome the aid

Sen. Cortez Masto’s home state of Nevada was the poster child for how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism industry. Nevada casinos brought in just $683.7m in revenue in December 2020, a 35% decrease from December 2019. It was the worst month the state has seen since August 1997. The Las Vegas Strip, the heart of Nevada gambling and tourism, had its worst month in 27 years.

For the entire year, Nevada gaming revenue was $7.87bn, also a 35% drop year-on-year and the lowest year on record since 1996.

Despite the awful 2020, the American Gaming Association (AGA) is optimistic about 2021. AGA CEO Bill Miller said that there is a pent-up demand for the gaming and entertainment experience and with vaccine distribution hopefully accelerating as the year goes on, he believes that people will start heading back to casinos. An AGA survey shows that about a third of US adults plans on visiting a casino this year.

Stephen A. Crystal, founder of SCCG Management and head of US and Canada development for Betfred Sports, also thinks the future is bright. In an exclusive interview with VegasSlotsOnline News, Crystal said that he is actually more optimistic than most, believing that the recovery will happen faster than the two-to-three-year industry consensus.

“People always underestimate Vegas’s ability to reinvent itself and come roaring back,” he said.