The Language(s) of Gaming

Why Las Vegas casinos should brush up on their Spanish—and more

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Bingo Lotería made headlines earlier this month when it debuted at the Lucky Club in North Las Vegas. With four sessions a week, the English and Spanish-language game has a twist: One winner each session plays a bonus round based on the card-based Mexican game of Lotería.

That a few sessions of bingo a week in a small casino are now called in both English and Spanish might not sound like a big deal. But it’s a reminder of the primary law of casino management: Give your customers what they want. That’s nowhere more obvious than on the Strip in late January, when casinos deck themselves out in red and gold as they compete for the attention of visitors celebrating Chinese New Year—or any other time of the year when casinos take steps to cater to a niche clientele that likes to play.

The Lucky Club’s move speaks to the growing presence of Spanish-speaking players in and around Las Vegas. And it’s not without precedent. In 2010, Buffalo Bill’s casino in Primm started offering bilingual blackjack, with dealers speaking to players in both English and Spanish. Combined with Spanish-language concerts, the game was an attempt to counter the inroads that California’s tribal casinos have made into the drive-up Southern California market. To all appearances, the move was successful—Buffalo Bill’s Latino offerings continue to draw.

With the Latino population of Clark County nearly doubling since 2000, it isn’t surprising to see a new game geared towards that market. Like any other casino innovation, it will be judged by one criteria: Is it profitable?

If it is, we can expect to see more bilingual games. With so many casinos in town, there’s great pressure to give potential patrons a reason to drive past competitors. Speaking to them in a language they prefer is one way to do that.

Even if Bingo Lotería doesn’t succeed, it won’t be the last attempt to engage the local Spanish-speaking population. It is simply too large a market to be ignored. Competition among locals casinos remains fierce, with the lingering effects of the Great Recession still strong. Employment is ticking up slowly, but with the economy still sluggish, the casino business just can’t grow the way it used to, when simply adding new games translated into earning more money.

Now the challenge is to reach previously untapped markets, something that can be done by conducting games in a language other than English, whether it’s Mandarin or Spanish. Casinos used to prosper by catering to the broad middle; now they are catering with greater focus to a variety of smaller groups.

The bottom line: Casinos here are fortunate that gamblers of all backgrounds speak fluent Vegas. And Vegas is savvy enough that it will learn to answer in whatever language patrons want to hear.