Are parking fees, poor odds taking their toll on Las Vegas Strip?

Are parking fees, poor odds taking their toll on Las Vegas Strip?

January 02, 2018 5:33 PM
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I have “a burr under my saddle, a pebble in my shoe,” so to speak over the pay-for-parking situation on the Las Vegas Strip.

Far be it for me to claim I know more about their businesses than the major casino/resort operators on what is the most famous and likely the most supremely profitable stretch of real estate in the United States. Yet, there’s confusion on my part over the recently announced decrease in gaming revenue for the Strip.

Could it be the parking charges along with tighter slots and less-than-liberal blackjack rules are at the root of this?

The statistics released last week by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) show Nevada’s November gaming revenue dipped 2.3 percent but that most Southern Nevada casinos saw increases, with the significant exception of the Strip. On the Strip, revenue was down 6.04 percent in November compared to November last year.

“If you factor out the Strip, the state would have been up,” said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst with the Tax and License Division of the Gaming Control Board.

Lawton cited losses for the Strip properties in baccarat and blackjack (“21”) as major contributors to the downturn at the Las Vegas Boulevard properties that comprise the heart of the area’s major gaming resort corridor.

“Another big factor was sports pools,” Lawton said. “The win total was $2.7 million, and that’s down 74.4 percent or $7.9 million” from last November.

Lawton also noted that the overall amount of money bet in sports pools on the Strip decreased 2.2 percent, or $5.4 million, and the hold was only 1.03 percent this year compared to 3.98 percent for November 2016.

“The major decrease came from baseball,” he said. “Baseball betting on the Strip lost $6.1 million.”

There has been no formal data released regarding exactly how much revenue the parking charges generate.

My friend, author Bobby Singer, with a doctorate (awarded by me) on all things Las Vegas with a focus on blackjack, said to this reporter in no uncertain terms that locals don’t wish to pay to park, so they are playing where they can park for free. He also noted that the 6/5 for blackjack instead of the previous 3/2 has resulted in a major defection of players. This is just his opinion, but he understands the mindset of gamblers as well as anyone I have ever met in more than three decades in Southern Nevada.

Tighter rules for the game, smaller payoffs for “21” and significant charges for parking have driven players off-Strip where rules are more liberal and the limits have steadily increased, Singer summarized for me.

Regarding local sports bettors, most are going to take the $20 or so they might have used to pay to park and use the money to take a shot where parking is free.

Somewhere along the line I absorbed the notion that a business should never leave money on the table. If there’s a way to make some cash, do so! Most gamblers have no issues spending cash to make a bet they might win, but balk at paying to park, especially when it used to be free.

Many years ago, I nearly got run over crossing the Cross Island Expressway going to Belmont Park because my friend wanted to avoid the parking charge at the track. However, when it came to betting the ponies, it was fire away!

The casino/resort operators might counter that a significant player is going to get “comped” parking. However, the NGCB numbers seem to show that less significant players are staying away from the Strip. Wouldn’t all of us low rollers, if we returned to the Strip, create substantial cash flow if we could still park for free?

Another long-time chum has a minor interest in a Strip eatery. He told me last week that having to pay to park has driven away many local customers. He revealed that his landlord, a major Strip casino/resort company, has offered free parking to verified customers of his establishment, but only for the first two hours. He says that’s just not long enough because locals want to have dinner and gamble a bit.

He’s right.

My final unscientific data comes from two former top Strip casino executives I spoke to during my annual New Year’s Eve hello as they dined in an off-Strip restaurant. Both played a major role for many years in growing gambling revenue on the Strip.

Let’s just say, discouraging customer visitation is a puzzle to them both.

Obviously, I have some strong opinions on this issue and I’ll quickly change them as soon as any of the major casino/resort companies builds a facility anywhere without gambling.

Only then, will I admit that gambling’s obvious systematic diminishment on the Las Vegas Strip is the correct business decision.