Casinos have seen a bright spot during their reopening that the gaming industry hopes will continue once the coronavirus pandemic ends — a greater showing of millennials at their properties.
The youngest members of Generation Y are 23 and the oldest are 39, and their presence in casinos across the country has been touted by several casino executives and the American Gaming Association during second quarter earnings and revenue reports.
That group of newcomers, executives say, is providing a much-needed boost to the industry that has seen many of their loyal older players stay home out of fear of COVID-19.
Going after this younger group has been the search for the white whale in the casino industry that’s been trying to crack the code to lure them to their properties with eSports, skill-based gaming, electronic table games, concerts, day clubs and nightclubs.
What’s helping with that is the shutdown of many activities that millennials would otherwise be doing, executives say. That includes movie theaters, concerts, bars and clubs, sporting events, overseas travel and cruises.
Whether their appearance in casinos continues even when those activities return remains unknown at this point. But the industry is optimistic.
Even before the pandemic, that trend has been emerging in Las Vegas where the average age of visitors was 46 and 62% were 40 and older. The most recent survey issued in June by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s profile of 2019 visitors to the city showed first-time visitors were increasing — making up about 25% of visitors.
Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said the reports that younger people are coming to casinos this summer bodes well for the industry that’s been going after that crowd with its innovation.
“I think part of it is people recognize that this is a great and fun opportunity, and that there are not a lot of alternatives for entertainment,” Miller said. “Today, you can’t go to a sporting event. You can’t go to a concert, and you can’t go to a theater. Our option continues to be one that is a great opportunity to have some fun with your friends and family. Our hope is that we are able to capitalize on that and begin to expand that younger cohort of clientele.”
Miller said younger people use mobile wallets and other forms of cashless payments, and the gaming industry’s movement towards cashless technology because of COVID-19 will be attractive to millennials.
“This is a trend that is going to accelerate, and I believe this acceleration will be good for the industry and very good for the patrons and will allow our industry to be much more approachable to a younger generation that quite frankly don’t carry cash or transact in cash.”
Miller said pent-up demand along with the federal stimulus in part has helped lure people to properties, and he cited how younger customers appear to be staying longer and spending more — another added plus while the industry awaits for older patrons to return.
“Among a group that has a high degree of discretionary spend, (it’s great) that group finds the gaming industry and casino an important and fun part of their social life,” Miller said of millennials.
Dave Forman, the AGA’s senior director of research, said every 20 to 30 years there’s always a concern about attracting the next generation of gamblers. Las Vegas has evolved over the decades (with a bigger focus on amenities outside of gaming) and the city and industry will continue to evolve and provide products to entice young people into casinos and provide “great entertainment value.”
Forman said casinos are constantly working to innovate and attract and retain these new customers with immersive 4D slot machines and skill-based games. The expansion of mobile wallets will help reach a crowd that’s not used to dealing with cash every often, he added.
The AGA’s consumer studies have shown there’s a lot of overlap between gamblers and early technology adopters, Forman said. Younger people are more likely to try new technology and that creates a “natural fit between consumers and casinos.
“As they are exposed to that, they realize it’s not all old slot machines and blackjack but options like skill-based gaming, iGaming and sports betting that can attract a younger audience for the long term,” Forman said.
Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Market Advisors, said while the lack of other entertainment options has helped the casino industry lure younger patrons for now, he hopes it becomes a habit when other options return.
“It will be about continuing to attract that younger consumer, which includes cashless payments and other forms of gaming that may pertain to their likes as opposed to a traditional slot machine that doesn’t,” Bussmann said. “I’m optimistic. Who would have known six months ago when this started that we would care about Russian table tennis, Belarussian soccer and Korean baseball? I can still turn on Korean baseball on ESPN. There’s a reason why they’re putting it on, and people are following it. Habits can definitely change.”