Will the casinos of today become irrelevant in the future? Does it make sense to invest in this future customer now? Or is this discussion just a waste of time?
The loud buzz at conferences and in gaming publications, is about the future of brick and mortar casinos in relation to this group of consumers, ages 17 to 36 … the millennial generation.
The dilemma of how to best invest dollars today in “future” customers, while keeping current guests and investors happy, is not unique to the gaming industry. However, many believe that casinos have been traditionally slower to adapt technology compared to other enterprises. And the fear is that the current cash cow for casinos specifically outside of the Las Vegas Strip, slot machines and table games, will not be of interest to this future group.
Gaming executives are very much divided on this topic. Many believe that it is a true waste of investment and of breath to speculate on a group that won’t have the discretionary income for several years down the road. One reader commented, “Remember when we built water parks at casinos for the new generation? How did that go?” Others believe that acting now, is the only way to stay solvent in the future.
When industry leader Steve Wynn* spoke at the International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking said that he was “one of those old white guys” who thinks Millennials are “sort of short on brains.” He also said that, “They (millennials) get older later so maybe when they’re about 60, we’ll have a chance to get some common sense out of them. In the meantime, we’re doing well with the little darlings in our nightclubs.” He might not understand this age group, but he certainly appreciates the non-gaming revenue.
Gency, our 29-year old marketing manager (pictured right) at Raving laughs when she sees this big headline about “being short on brains” on my computer screen as I’m writing this article.
She’s our “token millennial” that we run things by for her unique generational perspective.
A very unscientific gathering of data
With Gency’s help, I gathered feedback of a total of 10 “kids” from different parts of the country to get the scoop on their thoughts on casinos. All, except one, had their bachelor’s degree and one had their medical doctorate.
Similar to what Mister Wynn has discovered; all of my interviewees go to casinos occasionally for reasons other than gambling: restaurants, bars and concerts and always with groups of friends. None of the respondents would go to a casino as a resort destination.
And if you think that Wynn’s comment of “short on brains” is harsh, this is what Russ (24, estimator, Reno) responded with to my question about what turns you off about casinos:
“Most of the people at casinos gambling are low-lifes who I never want to spend time around.”
Looking through all the feedback, I can’t say that I am going to share anything that most casinos operators or even the general public, don’t already know. The complaints aren’t unique to this generation either: smoke, crowds, noise, and expense (specifically of clubs and restaurants).
When these young folks did gamble while they were on property for another reason, table games were mentioned more frequently. Gency likes video poker as she’s familiar with “basic strategy” and can “stretch her $20 longer.” She summed-up other slot games with, “I don’t like playing slots. Just hitting a button over and over again to see what pops up is boring. Makes me feel like a test rat that gets addicted to hitting a trigger because it results in cheese, unpredictably and randomly.”
Mary Rose, 29, sales, Portland replied that her ideal casino would be “user friendly, i.e. have rules posted so I wouldn’t look dumb when I tried to learn a new game.”
Mitch, 25, estimator, Reno, said that he avoids, “slot machines and doesn’t gamble alone.” What he likes the most about casinos is “meeting people.”
Sophia, 27, production associate, Reno, said her ideal casino would have “beginning and advanced tables.”
Russ, (the same guy that said most people gambling were “low-lifes”), shared that if he did play, he liked blackjack and craps as the “odds aren’t terrible and the energy is definitely more fun than machines.”
Will casinos ever be the choice hangout for millennials? Is it too early to tell?
There’s this theory of the “third place” (coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg) which is a place, other than home (1st place) and work (2nd place) where we spend the most time. He suggests that these are coffee shops, bars, restaurants and other gathering places that people frequent for community and connection (which we know is important to Gen Y). Some of the components of this space, he suggests is that they are:
- Free or inexpensive
- Food and drink, while not essential, are important
- Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
- Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
- Welcoming and comfortable
- Both new friends and old should be found there
One of Gency’s answers checked off several of the “third place” boxes.
When asked what her favorite casino was, she said our locals’ downtown gambling joint here in Reno, the Club Cal-Neva (also Mitch’s favorite). Just this past weekend she and some friends gathered there for karaoke. On the Cal-Neva blog, one of their tags is “get drunk and eat.” They’re known for their beer pong, bikini baby-oil wrestling, 50 cent coconut shrimp … you get the picture. So, why would she go there above others?
“Because dollar beers! It’s a lowbrow joint and the people watching is pure gold. So, maybe I like the Cal-Neva for all of the wrong reasons. But I’ll also say, it’s welcoming. You fit in exactly as you are. The staff isn’t the friendliest, you can tell that they’re hardened, but if you treat them right, they treat you right. And when any of my non-gambling friends wants to dip their toe into the world of table games, it’s a perfect place to take a newbie. It’s comfortable, non-threatening, and their table games have low minimums. The dealers are hit and miss – you get a friendly/funny one sometimes, or someone who hates their job (or just hates us) at other times.”
So, are millennials really short on brains? Or are we old farts?
They’re a generation accustomed to exponential technological progress. They communicate in abbreviated language with two thumbs. They also might carry more long-term debt (excluding mortgage) than other generations, due to the higher cost of education, thus impacting their future buying power.
And as one of the largest generations moves into its prime spending years – we’ll most likely see their technology driven preferences force cable companies, television manufacturers and other brick and mortar businesses (like our casinos) to get with the times or close their doors.
So no, I don’t believe they are short on brains, just different from those of us hovering around 50 (or older) that saw the microwave as one of the best technological advancements in youth and did not start fully utilizing email for personal use until we were 30!
As long as the silent generation, baby boomers and Gen-Xers will accept traditional gaming and its smoke and its noise and its sometimes surly dealers, would you agree that casinos should take as slow a course of action as possible so not to impact their short-term profits?
When the day comes that millennials have meaningful disposable income, will casinos discover that they have moved way too slowly? And will their gaming product go the way of daily newspapers?
When is it really time to start worrying about the millennial that cares about $1 beers? Should the casino industry leave it to the coffee shops and pubs to invest in creating that “third place” and table this conversation, at least for now?
And there’s the rub …