THE BACK PAGE: Where we might go from here
Putting together this 25th anniversary issue of Casino Journal has been a fun task, even if it was somewhat pre-tinged with regret. How to do justice to the topic, after all? There are so many touchstones and topics from the last quarter century that merit a spotlight.
We invited a number of people who have led, and continue to lead this industry to help out. And help they did. I am personally enormously thankful to each of them; Frank Fahrenkopf, Dick Haddrill, Charles Lombardo, James Maida, James Murren, Victor Rocha, and Phil Satre. Any healthy perspective on the past, present and future must start with those who have been in determinative positions over an extended period of time. If you are reading this before you have read their columns, big mistake. Stop. Go back to page 44, I’ll still be here.
Every industry is simple and complicated in its own way. Gambling as a product is ancient; as a highly regulated form of globally distributed mass entertainment relatively new. Time is making it increasingly apparent that each of our columnists, and many of you, our readers, have had a front-row seat for the birth and growth of an industry that, starting from rather humble beginnings, has carved out a permanent place in the economic and personal lives of many millions of people around the planet. There have been duller places to be this last quarter century.
If there is one issue that our guest columnists focus on consistently, it’s technology, particularly as it relates to the future. My own spin on this is that gaming is a unique form of entertainment that will never be a typical consumer good, but it increasingly competes directly in that realm. Just one illustration of the depth of change that the industry confronts; when I started covering gaming 17 years ago, the popularity of the industry was routinely shown by how it compared with the amounts of money people spent attending movie theaters or sports events. Video gaming, as it was called at the time, was somewhere on the radar as a faint blip. One big and undeniable change is that gaming on personal electronic devices of the non-gambling sort, but with elements of reward if not risk, has not only become a typical consumer good, but the fastest growing form of entertainment on the planet, supported by gains in quality and access that are compounding exponentially every year.
That’s one reason why the industry is right to focus on building a legal and regulated Internet gaming segment in the U.S. It’s essential, not only for the near-term prospects of individual operators and suppliers, but for the very relevance of the regulated gaming product going forward. There’s another area of technology where the industry must continue to progress, and that’s on the gaming floor itself. There is a hunger among operators for the kind of excitement that networked gaming can deliver, particularly in the area of floor-wide events. The decade-old conversation about networked gaming is finally getting somewhere because we can see the benefits to the player. The continued commitment of suppliers to creating a true plug-and-play environment and, just as important, the willingness of operators to re-invest in their floors, will be another essential factor in the extent to which the industry thrives (or not).
Technological challenges and opportunities are a fun topic compared with the biggest changes that the industry will have to deal with at some point in the next 25 years. The economic and demographic trends that are in view appear to present a major challenge for the gaming industry, particularly for those operators who depend on older players disproportionately. Over time, the most comfortable generation of retirees ever will be replaced by a much more economically insecure group. Folks who had their kids earlier in life, paid off their homes, sent the young ones to college without borrowing much or any money, have a defined benefit pension in addition to stable Social Security payments, and have enjoyed predictable levels of support for their health care, will give way to a new generation of retirees (should they be able to afford retirement) that have a whole different set of concerns.
Lastly, there’s the economy itself, which appears to be in a steady state of little to no growth and will almost surely be buffeted by the global competition for oil, water and “what’s left” over the next quarter century. Who knows…Based on the record of success charted by all those who have had the opportunity to work at this magazine the last 25 years, not to mention the enduring appeal of the gaming product itself, don’t be surprised if the industry again outperforms expectations.