[toc]There is no denying many baby boomers love to gamble. But as they age (some of them have already turned 70), their visits to the casinos become less frequent and their contribution to the bottom line dwindles. So casinos need a new crop of players to take their place.
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, seem like the perfect candidates, at least the casino higher-ups think so. Millennials comprise all persons in the 18-35 age bracket.
Technically, however, in Atlantic City and many other casino locations where the minimum age to legally gamble is 21, the youngest millennials would be excluded.
Millennials have already discovered the casinos, as anyone who visits (especially on weekends and holidays) is bound to notice. But they are coming primarily to party rather than gamble. While on the premises, they enjoy the restaurants, bars and clubs, but spend minimal time in the casino itself. Seventy percent of millennials visiting casinos are carrying less than $100 in cash.
Casino managers are hoping to get more of these young people — both those who are already on the premises and new customers — gambling on the casino floor. Along with new marketing strategies specifically geared toward younger patrons, increased attempts to draw this segment of the population have already resulted in major changes to the casino floor.
But are these strategies working? Or are some of these shifts in priorities backfiring and turning off older players who currently contribute more to the bottom line?
How to connect with the next generation and attract more millennials to the casino is a hot topic these days in gambling circles. It was also one of the topics discussed at the East Coast Gaming Congress and iGaming Institute held at the Harrah’s Resort Conference Center in Atlantic City last month.
Why aren’t the millennials gambling?
If New Jersey casinos are going to attract younger patrons to use the facilities for their primary purpose, to gamble, management needs to understand and identify the present deterrents.
A big deterrent is that many of these individuals, especially those still in their 20s, simply don’t have enough access to ready cash. They may still be in school or just out of college, either looking for work or in an entry level job. Many of them are still living at home with their parents.
In addition, many of them have not yet developed the maturity to save for their future. They want immediate gratification, so when they get their hands on a little extra cash, they will happily spend on fun activities. They don’t mind plunking down a nice chunk of change for dinner in a top restaurant or a few rounds of drinks in a club or by the pool.
But they are reluctant to risk the same money gambling, with the possibility that they will lose it all and have nothing to show for it.
How casinos are responding to the challenge
The Las Vegas approach
What happens in Vegas may or may not stay in Vegas. But whenever the outcome is “out with the old and in with the new,” those involved in casino operations elsewhere are definitely interested.
Because the changes in Vegas are obviously working. Vegas is not only attracting record numbers of visitors, but their average age is younger than it used to be. At the same time, the contribution to the bottom line coming from gambling is diminishing and the contribution from non-gambling sources (rooms, food, drinks, entertainment and shopping) is increasing.
Blame it on the millennials.
But in Vegas, instead of trying to find ways to get these visitors to change their ways and gamble more, the casinos are creating new attractions more in line with what they already know the younger generation wants. Apparently, that means more restaurants, more clubs, more big entertainment venues and more places to meet and socialize.
If they want to do a little gambling in the casino, great. If not, that’s fine too. As Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, puts it: “A dollar is a dollar.”
The face of Vegas is constantly changing, and April 2016 was no exception as two new attractions debuted on the Vegas Strip. On April 4, MGM Resorts opened its much-heralded new dining and entertainment area, The Park, between two of its casino properties, New York-New York and the Monte Carlo. Two days later, the 20,000-seat T-Mobile concert arena, which can be accessed via The Park, also opened.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation, another major player on the Vegas Strip, opened a new boutique hotel called the Cromwell, as well as the LINQ promenade and High Roller Observation Wheel in 2014 and the Grand Bazaar Shops in front of Bally’s in 2015.
While the Cromwell has a small casino, the social scene is its primary attraction. For example, at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, guests are invited to join the hotel manager for a champagne reception. Guests also receive complimentary access for two to Drai’s Beach Club. As another act of catering to millennials, there are special kiosks in the lobby where guests can use their smartphones to check in and out instead of waiting in line.
Not to be outdone, Steve Wynn has equally lofty plans for his own two resorts on the Strip, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. He hopes to create Paradise Park, transforming what is now a golf course into a large lake with a surrounding beach, boardwalk and new hotel tower. During the day, guests could partake in water sports and at night they could watch a fireworks display.
What all of these projects have in common is a de-emphasis on gambling in recognition of the fact that many visitors, especially the younger ones, want to do other things in the casino.
In Atlantic City, more of the same
Other casinos are following Las Vegas’ example and betting on attractions to ensure their facility will have enough pizzaz to appeal to a younger demographic.
For example, in Atlantic City the Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort and the Deck at the Golden Nugget both bring in top DJs to perform for huge (mostly young) crowds. Both places also have blackjack tables.
Meanwhile, the Borgata (also on the Marina) closed its outdoor Festival Park, which it found to be unprofitable, and recently opened a new club called Premier designed to rival the top clubs in Las Vegas, New York and Miami.
In addition, starting this summer, the three Marina casino hotels are collaborating on a joint venture. On the first Friday of the month, they are extending a special offer to visit three of the casinos’ most popular venues: Premier at the Borgata, Haven Nightclub at the Golden Nugget and the Pool After Dark at Harrah’s for a combined cover charge of $20.
The Quarter at the Tropicana continues to draw huge crowds to its multiple restaurants, bars and dance clubs, as does Dusk at Caesars and LandShark and Margaritaville at Resorts. Even Bally’s Wild West has opened a new upscale watering hole called the Boardwalk Saloon.
Maybe millennials will gamble if you give them the right games
While there is no doubt that these kinds of venues and amenities will bring more young people to the casinos, many executives don’t want to stop there. They feel a lot more can and should be done to capitalize on this largely untapped source of gambling revenue by offering the kinds of games that younger visitors will want to play.
According to Mark Frissora, president and CEO of Caesars Entertainment, younger customers, having grown up using the internet and mobile devices, are much more tech savvy than their parents. They want more complex games with some element of skill and would be open to trying new experiences comparable to their experiences online.
The general consensus is not to offer precisely the same games in the casino for real money that they can play online, especially since they can already play those games for free, but rather games which utilize similar skills. Casino operators would welcome the opportunity to introduce new slot games where the outcome depends on strategy as well as luck.
They would also love to be able to offer fantasy sports betting, and they view wider legalization of sports betting as a means of attracting younger gamblers.
Much like today’s top clubs and concert acts offer their young patrons the complete entertainment package, including a full sensory overload and a highly immersive, out-of-this-world experience, it is believed that millennials want the same from their games.
Support for this conclusion comes from the immense popularity of such games as Game of Thrones, Guns N’ Roses and The Big Bang Theory with younger players. In addition, even though slots, in general, might not be popular with millennials, those with their favorite themes from TV, movies, or featuring a popular celebrity, or having multiple games in one, do get their attention.
And the bigger and more eye-catching the machine, the better.
On a recent Saturday night, this reviewer attended a Peter Cetera (former lead singer of the band Chicago) performance at Caesars in Atlantic City. While the concert audience was largely baby boomers (with a sprinkling of Generation Xers), stepping out onto the casino floor near the giant slot machines, I found myself in a different scene entirely.
A monstrous Big Bang Theory slot machine had a cushiony chair big enough for two, while other enormous slots offered such games as Advantage Revolution, The Godfather and Sphinx in 3D. There was also a separate carousel consisting entirely of Britney Spears jackpot slots. I walked by only out of curiosity, but even if I wanted to play, I couldn’t have.
Every seat was occupied, and the players were all millennials!
Besides love of a good time and fondness for excitement and novelty, other millennial traits on which casinos want to capitalize include enthusiasm for social activities, combined with a love for competition. If coming to the casino gives them a chance not only to meet other players, but to show off their skills, they are all for it.
Tournaments and leaderboards fit in perfectly with this type of mentality.
Most experts feel that any changes in the actual games, with the intention of making them more attractive to millennials, need to be be made slowly. From a practical standpoint, this approach makes sense, as does taking care not to lose sight of the gaming preferences of the older players who are the casino’s bread and butter.
Yet, surprisingly, many of the same types of games that would seemingly appeal most to millennials are also attracting Generation X and baby boomer gamblers. Older players also enjoy the social aspects of casino play, including games requiring at least a little skill to go with the luck.