I first started going to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, a fledgling business writer attending the town’s business conventions, specifically those around retail real estate, which was my specialty back then. One of the first things I was struck by in Las Vegas was the omnipresence of casinos-not so much the physical presence (I expected that), but the way they were constantly advertising for more customers. It didn’t matter what form of Las Vegas mass media you turned to-primarily television and radio back then-casinos’ forceful marketing messages filled the airwaves.
I can’t tell you how very different this was from the norm for me. I was brought up in Massachusetts where, outside of the lottery, there was no gaming advertising whatsoever. I went to school in Philadelphia and eventually settled in New York City, where casino marketing was the occasional highway billboard you passed as you headed south on Interstate-95. It’s not that casinos weren’t nearby; after all Atlantic City was the second largest gaming jurisdiction in the United States in terms of number of casinos, and it was less than 200 miles down the road. But at that time it was also a monopoly and I guess resorts did not feel the need to blanket New York City with calls for people my age (mid-20s at that time) to come south to try the slots and table games. They had plenty of trade from gambling aficionados, who flocked to Atlantic City because it was literally the only game in town.
My, how times have changed. I’m still in New York City, Atlantic City is still just down the road, but now everyone is very aware of that fact. These days, New York City residents are absolutely bombarded with regional casino advertising, not only for Atlantic City, but for facilities in nearby Pennsylvania and Connecticut. We’re even getting talking horse-themed ads for the slots at Yonkers Raceway of all places. As if any self-respecting Manhattanite would dare set foot in Yonkers… although many must be given how wildly successful that property is.
And now the battle is about to be joined for real. Resorts World New York, a 400,000-square-foot resort currently being developed within the footprint of the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, is scheduled to open later this fall and will be the first casino (sans live table games) in New York City proper. Initially, the facility will offer 2,280 video lottery terminals and 205 electronic table games, with plans to expand to more than 5,000 gaming machines by the end of the year. It will require a lot of patronage to make this amount of gaming profitable. The battle for customer attention is likely to be fierce, especially as more states in the region foster casino development to boost local economies and make up for budget shortfalls.
The fact that properties and jurisdictions both new and old are mining New York City for new customers shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone; after all, there are an estimated 19 million people residing in the greater metropolitan area. There is no other market this size in the U.S. with as few casinos to cater to gaming needs. Targeting the city’s Asian population alone has made Sands Bethlehem very successful, despite the fact it is 90 minute drive from downtown Manhattan. Now there is a gaming property less than an hour away by subway. Let the ad air war begin.
Really, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the casino mass marketing eventually reach Vegas levels; that’s how high the stakes for this market will become as more and more regional properties come on line. As a New Yorker, I for one will not mind the background noise, so long as they take something equally annoying in return. I’m thinking the Mets.