Photo by Ryan Olbrysh

How Seasonal Are Gaming and Tourism?

Numbers fluctuate through the year—but maybe not how you think they do

How seasonal are gaming and tourism in Las Vegas? My hometown, Atlantic City, had a well-defined busy season: Memorial Day to just after Labor Day (the Miss America Pageant was created to extend the summer an extra week). Vegas has its fluctuations, too, but they are harder to characterize.

To measure seasonality, I totaled the monthly gaming revenues for 2001 to 2015. The total Strip gaming revenue for each January from 2001 to 2015, for example, was just under $7.8 billion.  The average of each month’s total for that period is $7.3 billion, which is the baseline.

Looking at the Strip, the range of variation was relatively small: The busiest revenue month, January, was 6 percent larger than the average, while the slowest month, June, was 9 percent smaller. In Atlantic City, by contrast, the most lucrative month (August) was 23 percent larger than the average, while the slowest month (November) was more than 30 percent smaller.

Even more interesting, there isn’t a strong correlation between the number of visitors arriving in Las Vegas and the amount spent gambling.

When does the Strip do the most gambling business? January, May and December are the peak months, with April and June the slowest. The first quarter is highest-earning, followed by the fourth, third and second quarters. The summer sees less betting than the winter. But there is no real “offseason” for Strip casinos, outside of the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas slowdown that, thanks to National Finals Rodeo and room bargains, isn’t that slow, all things considered.

There are some quirks: May, the second-highest producing month, is sandwiched by April and June, the two lowest. From the early-summer low, business increases until October, falls off in November, grows in December and January, then declines again.

What is interesting is that off the Strip, the patterns are much different. Downtown Las Vegas has much less variation than the Strip, with lower peaks and shallower valleys. March and October stand out as busy months, with some minor doldrums in the summer and December—a much different pattern than the Strip. Clark County, with Downtown and the Strip taken out, has its best month in March and its worst in August, although November and December are also weak.

Even more interesting, there isn’t a strong correlation between the number of visitors arriving in Las Vegas and the amount spent gambling. Looking at visitor numbers from 2011 to 2015, there is a definite off-season in terms of sheer volume, with the winter months—November to February—much slower than the rest of the year. This is a little puzzling, because those are the months when Las Vegas, while it isn’t balmy, has much better weather than most of the country. December is the second least-crowded month (just edging out February which, to be fair, has two or three fewer days to work with) and March, followed closely by October, is the busiest.

Adjusting for the number of days in each month, December is clearly the laggard, with an average of 98,730 visitors per day, and March and October both averaging more than 114,700. Each month of the extended summer season averages over 110,000 visitors per day.

The slow December numbers make sense given that most of the month is the pre-Christmas lull, and put in perspective just how big New Year’s is for casinos: Despite having the fewest visitors, it is just behind January as the strongest gaming month. Similarly, the strongest months for visiting are the shoulder months, March and October, with visitors presumably getting a jump on spring or extending their summer.

While there are definitely slower times of the year in Las Vegas, they aren’t necessarily less income-producing, and the biggest income-producing times aren’t necessarily the busiest. This is what distinguishes Las Vegas from other destinations: Because of high-rollers, there isn’t a one-to-one relationship between the number of visitors and the total income. A few (or even one) big-betting player can skew the revenue results in either direction.

So when people ask me how seasonal Las Vegas is, I can never give them a simple answer—it depends on whether they are talking gaming win or visitor volume. The answer is more complicated than it should be, which makes it par for the course when studying Las Vegas.

David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.