Raving’s Cutting Edge Table Games Conference was another success last month, and not just because it drew more than 350 people and over 30 exhibitors and sponsors. But also because the case for growth in table games remains strong, and is in many ways stronger and more plausible than it is for slots.
The conference was kicked off by Dr. David Schwartz, director, UNLV Center for Gaming Research, who gave his annual statistical snapshot of table game revenue around the country. The presentation was particularly noteworthy for the color that Schwartz added to the numbers.
Take Downtown Las Vegas, which Schwartz described as a mix between local Las Vegans, people who want a bargain and serious gamblers, and a place where table game revenue has climbed to 26 percent of total gaming revenue from 24 percent in the past three years, and has often shown more resilience than slot revenue along the way. In the six months from April to September, for instance, slot revenue Downtown was down about two percent and table game revenue rose 3.65 percent.
“It’s a price-sensitive market with players who look for the best deal,” said Schwartz. “The games tend to hold less than on The Strip; there are a lot more gamblers who know what they’re doing. They also tend to be a lot smaller and don’t have the full range of non-gaming attractions. They have to make the money through gambling.”
Schwartz believes there is a general shift in behavior that you’re going to see in a lot of markets that are like Downtown, that are more price sensitive and have more repeat and habitual gamblers. They’re starting to not only enjoy table games more, but also gamble more at them. This is a reason why casinos should invest in table games right now; in the players and the employees.
Part of the reason is that the future case for slots appears shaky. The slot manufacturers insist that 10 years ago the average slot player was a 55-year-old woman and today it is also a 55-year-old woman. “Either 55-year-old women have discovered the elixir of eternal life, or something magical happens when you turn 55, which is you start playing slots,” said Schwartz. “They say people in their 20s and 30s aren’t playing slots now, but we don’t worry because they’ll eventually come here. If you go back 30 or 40 years, gambling was a niche activity and you did not see your average 55-year-old woman playing slot machines.”
His point, and it’s a good one, is people since the beginning of time have always liked to gamble, but they haven’t always liked to gamble on the same stuff. “In 1934, the average gambler is a man in his 40s or 50s playing craps,” said Schwartz. “There’s no reason to think that people are just going to magically gravitate to slot machines just because it’s the dominant way people gamble now. People in the 80s didn’t magically move to blackjack and craps. In the 1990s, as gambling expanded, slots were very popular. They filled a need. The slot manufacturers do a very good job of making pretty boxes that look really neat. But, at the end of the day, everybody in this room has something in their pocket that has more entertainment value. Whenever I feel like it, I can open Netflix and start watching program X. Why would I want to sit in front of a slot machine so I could see little symbols going around, maybe get a bonus, when I could watch the show?”
Slot machines will remain the dominant form of gaming in brick-and-mortar casinos for many years to come, but if there was a case for real robust net growth in casino slots, why have the top two slot manufacturers agreed to be bought out by lottery companies? Table games are there to fill the gap left by declining slot revenue. They are a better hedge against new competitive gaming supply, which could, as Schwartz noted, come in the form of electronic instant lottery games that resemble slot games and can be played on your phone. The time to invest intelligently in everything—from table game staff to new systems, marketing technologies to new table games—is now.