Looking for answers during the downturn? The big G2E show and little Laughlin, Nev. may have a few solutions

Lining up three sevens doesn’t always add up to a lucky number, as the stock market found out when the Dow industrials tumbled 777 points Sept. 29 following Congress’ failure to pass the $700 million bailout.

Gaming stocks took it on the chin, and the next day they rebounded, as the market surged 485 points, but it wasn’t enough to bring many gaming stocks out of their swoon.

A report by the firm Applied Analysis showed nine out of 10 major gaming stocks dipped in September from their August average daily stock prices, marking the sixth time in seven months that gaming stocks fell. Just one of the 10 showed improvement, Ameristar Casinos.

“The effects of bank closures, liquidity challenges and overall fear within the system have wreaked havoc on the majority of industries, including gaming,” Brian Gordon, a partner in the Applied Analysis financial firm that produces a gaming stock index told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

We all know it’s bad out there, but the big questions are how much worse will it get, and for gaming, what effect will the continued foreclosures and plummeting 401k’s have on the gaming visitor? We already have seen some of the ramifications of fewer visitors and reduced gaming wallets. Gaming revenues are down. We’ve seen Echelon and the Plaza Las Vegas project go dormant, and witnessed the layoffs of employees as business drops. The convention business also has experienced smaller turnouts at events, and that translates into even more lost dollars for casino-hotels.

Where the floor is no one really knows. How long this economic downturn (OK, recession) will last, no one really knows.

Will people pull further inside their shells, worried that the next day will bring even worse news. Or, in the case of gaming, will they still come, given that a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City or the nearest Native American casino can be a value vacation. If they do, it’s a good bet they’re not going to be ordering bottle service at the ultra lounge or springing for the best seats at a Cirque show.

But those in the gaming industry may find some answers at this year’s Global Gaming Expo conference, Nov. 18-20, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

 Kudos to the American Gaming Association, which produces the conference and gaming show with Reed Exhibitions, for including timely sessions covering the current economic landscape and its effects on the future of the gaming entertainment industry.

Like you own the place

In the early 1990s, Laughlin, the Nevada-Arizona border town consistently was a top draw for gamblers. Even Steve Wynn wanted in on town founder Don Laughlin’s action, and soon his Golden Nugget joined the hotel-casinos lining the river.

Before the mock pirate ship battles, the pyramid and the dancing fountains of Las Vegas, Laughlin was a happening gaming spot. Then came the megaresort boom in Las Vegas, along with the rise of Indian and riverboat gaming, and Laughlin took a big hit.

But, in the wake of all that, Laughlin didn’t just resign itself to the situation. Instead, it went about thinking up new ways to drive visitation. Special events, such as SCORE racing, along with a refocus on the old-school playbook of ioffering rooms, dining and good entertainment  at a value price, have gone a long way toward shoring up the situation.

Now, in the face of a tough economy, Laughlin’s taking a new tack. In September, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in conjunction with the Laughlin Visitors Bureau rolled out a new campaign called “Laughlin. It’s Like You Own the Place.” It emphasizes the VIP treatment, convenience and affordability of Laughlin, and targets the 40- to 60-year-old demographic of people who have disposable income but don’t want to overspend. Nothing comes easy for this gaming hamlet, and it probably never will, but Laughlin deserves credit for its efforts.