Baccarat or Baccawreck?

March 01, 2016 3:09 AM
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Statewide baccarat results for January were down 26% when compared to January of last year and mini-baccarat was down 23%. While that level of revenue decline should send shudders and shockwaves through the governor’s and state budget director’s office, it was offset enough by slot revenue to not sound the alarm of gloom and doom.

When the dust settled, though statewide table game revenue was off 11.61%, slots gained enough so overall gaming revenue for January was only down 2.87%.

Perhaps we have become so accustom to double digit gaming revenue declines in Macau that we do not pay much attention when gaming revenues only decline 3%. But a 26% decrease in baccarat, one of the bigger and more important areas of revenue for the Las Vegas Strip properties, is something that merits more than a cocked eyebrow.

On seeing the results, it was an automatic reflex to look at the hold percentage of the game. Comparing it to prior year’s hold percentage and the rolling last 12 months hold percentage will tell you immediately if the results were because of customers winning or a decrease in customer volume.

The hold percentage, while not as high as December’s, was strong at 16% and higher than the rolling 12 month statewide average for the game, so it was all about volume. Perhaps volume was down because of the way Christmas and New Year’s fell on the calendar and Chinese New Year and Super Bowl fell squarely in February. If that was the case, we should see a nice re-bound for February’s baccarat volume and results.

In calling around to a few casino hosts, I learned that January was really slow in the baccarat pits, but action did pick up for Chinese New Year. One host noted that some of her customers did come to play in February as usual, but did not play at as many properties as in the past, and only went to another property where they were highly incentivized with gifts, red envelopes (with cash in them, a traditional Chinese New Year practice) or chips.

In that conversation I realized I had not heard from a particular gentlemen from Hong Kong who has been coming to Las Vegas for close to 40 years and is usually kind enough to call me when he gets to town. I asked the host about him, and she shared that he was very unhappy with Las Vegas and I should call him.

As far back as I can remember this particular customer has had a $3 to $5 million line of credit at several different properties, and while sometimes a little slow to pay his markers had always done so. He had been coming for so long, usually arriving just before Christmas, staying through Chinese New Year then leaving, usually owing between $8 and $10 million to the casinos.

Curiosity up, I reach out to him. After the usual pleasantries, I asked why he had not come to Las Vegas. After a string of Cantonese vulgarities, he explained he was insulted. The short version is he felt insulted because after having such a long relationship with so many casinos and always paying his debts he was being pressed to provide bank references and to share details of how he makes money.

I asked him if anyone had explained the rules had changed and the casinos needed to act more like banks now. If they did not have such information they would have to file Currency Transaction Reports and Suspicious Activity Reports on his action. He told me they had but he still felt insulted and customers at his level and longevity should be treated differently and with greater respect and deference.

While the win in baccarat was up in December the volume was down; in January both the win and volume were down. Perhaps it was the calendar and we will see a bounce back in the February results, perhaps it has something to do with patrons disliking the financial reporting.

No matter the cause we are seeing a continuing decrease in baccarat volume, one of the Strip’s most traditional and important revenue sources. Unfortunately, Nevada does not report results as promptly as Macau so we will have to wait till late March to see February’s gaming results to speculate if it was the calendar, the economy and/or the enhanced patron reporting that is having such a big impact on Nevada’s baccarat action.

The Analyst is an experienced gaming industry executive who offers insight each week on events and issues affecting the industry. Contact The Analyst at Publisher@GamingToday.com.