Why Are There So Many Movie Theaters in Las Vegas Casinos?

movie-theaterConsidering the casinos’ oft-discussed and demonstrated desire to calculatedly capture gamblers’ every move (and dollar), it might seem counterintuitive to offer an amenity that would spirit gamblers away from the gaming floor for hours at a time. That’s not necessarily so.

At last count, there are 20 movie theaters in the Las Vegas Valley (excluding one drive-in). Of those 20, half are within hotel-casino properties, and two others are on the Strip but not affiliated with a hotel. As for the 10 casino-based theaters, they’re all in so-called locals casinos. (To my recollection, Santa Fe Station—originally Santa Fe Casino—was the first modern-era casino to include a multiplex in 1991.) These off-Strip, often suburban gambling resorts (Sunset Station, Suncoast, etc.) attract a fair number of value-seeking visitors, but their primary marketing focus is on a captive audience: the 2 million folks—a good percentage of whom gamble—who call Southern Nevada home.

The recent idea of attracting “families” (and their gambling parents) was hardly innovative (Jay Sarno did this in 1968 with Circus Circus). Nor was it groundbreaking to offer a movie theater in a casino (that began at the original MGM Grand, now Bally’s, in 1973). But it worked well enough, and, as is typical of the industry, others soon imitated and expanded on the concept: Movie theaters begat food courts, bowling alleys, KidZones and other distractions normally reserved for Main Street, USA. (An interesting sidebar: That MGM Grand movie theater was part of an elaborate “arcade” that also featured unique retail shops and restaurants. An argument can be made that this arcade was the predecessor to the Forum Shops and every other casino-based mall in Las Vegas; that the MGM’s mall included a movie theater where couples snuggled on couches watching classic MGM films while slinky waitresses delivered cocktails is the stuff of Vegas legend.)

The bottom line is casino properties have long tried to lure guests with these entertainment and restaurant offerings, often at a loss. The reason? Get the gambler through the doors by any means necessary, and inevitably—be it before dinner or after the movie ends—they’ll find their way to the slot machines. This does, however, beg the question: As the movie industry struggles to compete against home streaming, what will become of the casino multiplexes? For a possible answer, we need look no further than the new MGM Grand, whose family theme park fizzled out after less than seven years; it was razed and replaced with luxury accommodations.