Sit in at any gaming conference and you’re bound to hear despairing talk of millennials and gambling. Capturing the millennial market, the thinking goes, is the key to success for Las Vegas casinos in the near future.
It’s not just faddishness that makes millennials such a compelling group for casino executives—it’s an honest read on visitor behaviors. Las Vegas tourism is at an all-time high. Last year, though, 2.3 million fewer visitors gambled than in 2007. With the average age of visitors skewing younger, it doesn’t take a statistician to guess that those younger visitors are doing something other than gambling here.
The Hard Rock Hotel, with its focus on music and a cool vibe over the gambling grind, understood way back in 1995 the need to diversify. For the most part, though, 1990s megaresorts were built to host gamblers, families and wealthier travelers. After the post-9/11 recession, the transition to nightlife began, giving casinos a reason to reach out to younger guests; the Great Recession and the more recent slowdown in Asian high-end play, as well as the natural aging-in of the group, has spurred an even more fervent desire to unlock the millennial market.
We can see the manifestation of that desire in some new approaches to tried-and-true casino gambling.
In September, the Lavo Casino Club at the Palazzo began offering blackjack and craps with “Vegas-style VIP bottle service, mixology and Italian cuisine.” Skeptics might wonder what the hype is all about; indeed, people have gambled, drank and eaten Italian food in Las Vegas for decades. What precisely makes this the advertised “modern gaming experience”? Possibly it’s the fact that this is a pre-paid, pre-packaged “experience” rather than a night out. There is no worrying about the whims of a pit boss’ rating; for $725, you and three friends can get a “VIP dinner menu,” one liter’s worth of bottle service, a VIP gaming table and admittance to the Lavo nightclub after you have finished gambling. Guaranteed.
Just like ticketed showroom seats eliminated the need to tip the maître d’ for primo views of the action, the Lavo Casino Club lets revelers know exactly what they are getting before they authorize their credit cards, which appeals to customers who want a sure thing, even in a casino.
Steve Wynn, who started the ’90s boom when The Mirage opened in 1989, is the latest to tweak his casino in an attempt to crack the millennial code. Sean Christie, Wynn Las Vegas vice president of operations, has been tasked with shaking up the casino formula to attract those next-generation dollars, and he has created the Encore Player’s Club, a 5,000-square-foot section of the Encore casino that combines traditional casino games, interactive table tops, lounge seating, Steve Wynn’s own billiards table and a shuffleboard table.
“Any good company takes a look at itself and tries to advance its entertainment offerings,” says Christie, who, having guided Wynn’s and Encore’s nightlife for the past five years, knows plenty about the market, millennial and otherwise. “Gambling, watching sports and lounging are there to entertain people. The Encore Player’s Club meets those needs.”
The club, which includes a DJ booth, will not, Christie says, change the existing vibe of the casino. “It will be the same music format we have now, nothing too loud or different. It will be better.”
Christie sees this new spin on gambling “complementing and enhancing” the existing casino. While it is designed to pull in new players, an older player “could come here and feel right at home,” he says. “Yes, it will be a great space for millennials, and if we do our job it won’t exclude anyone. We’re hoping to grow the pie.”
That’s a sensible approach—just as sensible as one taken by casino managers who, 40 years ago, decided that a few more slots wouldn’t drive off their table players and might help the bottom line. Casinos have been changing and evolving since the days that faro was a moneymaker; it is only natural that what they offer and who they appeal to will continue to change.
That evolution, even more than “the house always wins” truism, may be the only sure bet in Las Vegas casinos.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.