This trip down memory lane should tell us that it’s not if, but how the Strip will change in the next five years. Here are a few thoughts:
Overall, more people will be coming to Las Vegas, but fewer of them will be gambling. That’s been the ongoing trend: From 2006 to 2016, the average gambling spend per visitor fell from $156 to $137, while the average nongaming spend grew $230 to $264. Casinos will be investing less, and more selectively, on their gambling floors to capture that smaller wallet share.
The “big four” —baccarat, roulette, craps and blackjack—table games will still be here—they have lasted 50 years and don’t seem to be going anywhere. Expect to see more electronic versions of them and even games with a live “dealer” who moves cards while all betting is handled by touchscreen interfaces, but human dealers and chips will still be around, particularly at higher table limits.
Slot machines aren’t going anywhere, either (yet), although they will continue to evolve. Machines have been getting taller and more immersive, with haptic interfaces showing up—these may be much more common in a decade.
The number of machines will likely be smaller, as the number of visitors gambling and the time they spend doing so continues to decline. Most machines, though, will do much the same as current ones, with a few added flourishes.
We’ll likely see more noticeable changes in machines beyond traditional slots. Skill games, though they haven’t caught on yet, may be much more common. Online and mobile play will likely graduate from poker and sports betting to all forms of gambling. This will influence the downsizing of casino floors. Most Las Vegas casinos built in the 1990s or 2000s were designed to cater to two kinds of players: “retail” slot and table players looking for a seat and a gamble, and high-rollers. There are fewer of the former and more competition for the latter, so expect casino floors to get smaller but devote more resources to courting big players. Thus far, casinos have downsized by expanding the number of small pods and clusters of slots. If gambling continues to become a more niche Vegas activity, resorts may replace gambling space with other attractions.
One of those attractions will be esports, not so much for their gaming revenue as for a way to drive foot traffic. Downtown Grand and Silver Sevens have already launched esports programs, and other casinos are not far behind. They are not a way to replace slot machines as gambling devices, but they can bring people on-site who will spend money in other areas and might even gamble.
Other attractions? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. Drone racing? Social games with added gambling dimensions? Competitive fidget spinning? It may take many tries, but Strip casinos are very good at finding ways to monetize their space—one need look no further than their parking garages for proof.
These other attractions will be increasingly important because, if present trends continue, hotel rooms will replace gambling as Strip casinos’ primary revenue base. In 2007, Strip casinos made 41 percent of their money from gambling and 26 percent from rooms. Last year, those numbers had changed to 34 percent from gambling and 28 percent from rooms. Extrapolating out a few years, rooms will start outearning gambling in 2019; by 2021, Las Vegas Strip hotel rooms will bring in $7 billion, while gambling will pull in under $6 billion. And, by 2027, gambling will have just edged over the $6 billion mark, while rooms will be bringing in $11.8 billion in rates and fees. So the idea won’t be to build a decent hotel room to lure a gambler, but instead to find activities to entertain people who are willing to pay a high room rate.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Ten years ago, continuing the trendline, every casino would have had its own Broadway show today, but they disappeared. Likewise, the last of the classic Las Vegas showgirl extravaganzas, Jubilee! and Folies Bergere, have closed. So just because something is flourishing now it does not mean it will continue to shine.
But some genres, like magic and stripping, have shown incredible resilience, and they will hang on. Given the built-in brand recognition and relatively low cost of entry, parody shows (like 50 Shades! The Parody or Evil Dead The Musical) will likely also be around. Big-ticket entertainment will continue to be driven by marquee-name, sure-thing acts.
But they’ll be competing with something genuinely new for the Strip—big-league professional sports. While resorts have hosted championship boxing matches since the 1970s and major MMA cards since the 2000s, top-level professional sports are new to town, exhibition hockey and basketball games aside. By 2027, Las Vegas will be 10 years into its new life as a sports hometown, and the option of attending a hockey or football game on or near the Strip will be as much a given as sequined showgirls once were.
There’s no reason to think clubs will give up their dominance, but disco appeared ready to push out live lounges in the 1970s. While DJs have gotten the upper hand, it took 40 years. The big question is if current clubgoers will graduate to Vegas activities, which will help big investments in nightlife continue to pay dividends, or if they will simply stop coming to Las Vegas once they get tired of the club scene. Another possibility is that clubs will evolve to cater to an aging demographic.