Survey: good/bad news

Aug 13, 2002 12:05 PM

A new survey of American casino players tells a good news/bad news story for ­­Nevada gamers.

On the plus side, the poll commissioned by Harrah’s Entertainment found that gamblers’ income is 20 percent higher than that of the average U.S. household ”” $49,753 vs. $41,343.

And, as income rises, so does betting. Thirty-five percent of Americans with annual household income levels above $95,000 gamble in casinos, while only 22 percent of adults in homes earning less than $35,000 are casino players.

On the down side, Las Vegas’ grip on its major feeder markets is slipping.

California, home to 5.8 million people who gambled at least once last year, now ranks Southern California Indian reservations as the top casino destination (32 percent). Las Vegas came in second at 24 percent.

Arizonans rank Las Vegas well behind Indian casinos and Laughlin while Utahans frequent "other Nevada" casinos more often than Las Vegas.

The expansion of gambling across the country continues to be a two-edged sword for Las Vegas. The survey reports that 19 states now have "casino participation" rates in the 30 percent range ”” meaning that 30 to 40 percent of adult residents visited a casino at least once in the past year. Two other states ”” Louisiana and Arizona ”” post participation rates of 44 percent and 43 percent respectively.

But the Harrah’s survey suggests that larger numbers of these players are staying closer to home.

Nevada ”” which leads the nation with a 47 percent participation rate ”” appears to be relying evermore on its own population to fill its casinos. And though that formula has bolstered the bottom line at locals-oriented giants such as Station and Coast casinos, Nevada’s customer base is relatively small at 663,000 players.

Meantime, casinos in the Midwest, East and South are capturing huge population centers. Six states ”” New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas ”” totaling 16.5 million gamblers rank Nevada far down the list of preferred gaming venues. A modest 12 percent of Texas gamblers and 11 percent of Michiganders came to Las Vegas last year while players from the other big states opted for Las Vegas just 7 percent of the time or less.

Tapping into this trend, Harrah’s last week opened the Rincon Casino 25 minutes north of San Diego. Billed as California’s first Las Vegas-style resort, Rincon features 201 luxury hotel rooms, a 45,000-square-foot casino and six restaurants. Players can use the company’s Total Rewards card at the $125 million property, which is owned by the Rincon San Luiseno Band of Mission Indians.

But Las Vegas marketers are hardly folding in the face of competition. "The key is retention and repeat business, and Las Vegas does that very well. That’s why we do better in bad times,’’ says Billy Vassiliadis, head of R&R Advertising, which holds the major marketing contract with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. He and others note that with the addition and expansion of convention facilities here, the number of new and return trips is bound to increase. They point out that even an incremental increase in the average 2.3-trips-per-year here translates into thousands more customers. "They’ve all elevated their game,’’ Vassiliadis says of Las Vegas’ hotel-casinos outreach.

As for the survey’s profile of American gamblers (see accompanying box), Harrah’s president and CEO Gary Loveman said, "The findings demonstrate that casino players have broad appetites for life-enriching experiences, are financially stable and responsible, and are active in political and community life.’’