Visitors up the ante! Players betting more moneyin the casino

Apr 9, 2002 9:33 AM

While statistics show visitor volume to Las Vegas has been flat the last two years, a larger percentage of tourists say they come “primarily” to gamble, and they have been making bigger bets once they get here.

Those are several of the revealing results from the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority’s 2001 Visitor Profile Study.

According to the study, Las Vegas attracted 35,017,317 visitors in fiscal 2001, down about 2 percent from the previous year.

Moreover, the study revealed a diminishing number of first-time visitors ”” 21 percent, as opposed to 29 percent of total visitors five years ago.

“Until Las Vegas comes up with new mega resorts, like the Steve Wynn Desert Inn property, or other attractions, the number of first-time visitors will continue to decline,” said Kansas City travel agent Julie Smith. “Las Vegas experienced its greatest growth, from a tourism standpoint, during the flurry of construction in the 1990s, when Treasure Island, New York-New York, Paris Las Vegas, The Venetian and Mandalay Bay all came on line.”

The lack of compelling attractions has also affected the reason people travel here. Last year, only 57 percent of visitors said they came for vacation or pleasure, down sharply from 72 percent in 1997.

“Obviously, vacationers are looking at other venues,” Smith explained. “Las Vegas has compensated by booking more business and convention travelers, who have helped make up for the loss of vacationers.”

Also helping to make up for the loss of first-time and pleasure travelers has been a significant increase in those who say they come to Las Vegas “primarily” to gamble: 8 percent last year, compared to 4 percent five years ago.

As a larger percentage of visitors say they come primarily to gamble, they have been bringing a larger gambling budget and making larger bets once they get here. Last year, the average gambling budget was $607.27, up significantly from the $515.44 budget of five years ago.

With a larger gambling stake, it should follow that players are making bigger bets ”” both at the tables and at the slots ”” which appears to be the case. Last year, about 41 percent of table game players said they gambled at $10 or more minimum tables, up significantly from 17 percent in 1997 and 31 percent in 2000.

In the casino, 16 percent of the patrons play blackjack, making it the most popular table game. Craps has a 5 percent following with all other table games getting a 3 percent patronage.

Slots, of course, is the most popular casino activity with about 72 percent of patrons spinning reels or playing video gaming machines.

 And, while quarter machines are the preferred denomination of choice, there’s been a migration of players to dollar machines: the percentage of customers playing dollar machines has nearly doubled to 18 percent last year, compared to 11 percent in 1997. During that time, the percentage of quarter-machine players dropped from 72 percent to 65 percent.

In the meantime, the percentage of nickel machine players has remained constant: 16 percent last year, virtually the same as five years ago.

“I think you’ve seen a topping out of nickel players,” said Connie Davis, a slot hostess at a Strip casino. “There’s about double the number of nickel players as 10 years ago, but they’ve probably reached saturation in the market.”

Davis added that the defection of quarter players to dollar machines indicates a quest for the “big score.”

“With the wide area progressives and high-stakes jackpots offered by dollar machines, it’s only natural players would seek more fertile ground,” Davis said. “Besides, to drop in two or three dollar tokens isn’t much of a stretch from playing five or six quarters.”

While visitors have been spending more in the casino, they’re also paying more for other travel expenses:

”¡ visitors paid an average of $85.34 per night for lodging (hotel/motel), compared to $62.30 in 1997;

”¡ travelers paid $213.17 for food and beverage, nearly double the $123.87 of five years ago;

”¡ shopping expenditures reached $106.75 last year, up from $74.77 in 1997.

Finally, the Internet is exerting a greater influence on visitors’ decisions. According to the study, 52 percent of visitors last year booked their accommodations online and 36 percent booked their transportation over the Internet.

In addition, 25 percent of travelers said they used the Internet to plan their trip, and another 33 percent said the Internet influenced their decision of where to stay in Las Vegas.

“We’re obviously in the high-tech age,” said the marketing director of a Strip resort. “Our web site is just as important as any advertising campaign or promotion. We can’t afford to have someone pass over our site and not be impressed. The site is the marketing hook of the future, if not the immediate present.”