Changing player impacts a changing industry
New players, new technology and new competition is changing the face of the gaming industry.
Dealers dressed in black and white and standing behind felt-lined tables are slowly, though not completely, being replaced by the flashing lights of slot machines.
On the South Shore, about 60 percent of casino revenue comes from slot machines and 40 percent from table games, according to John Packer, director of communications at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
The numbers used to be reversed.
“At least for (Harrah’s), slots overtook table games eight to 10 years ago and continue to be popular,” Packer said, noting the trend had leveled off.
“Revenue growth, year to year, is in slot machines,” said Kirk Ledbetter, the director of community services and governmental affairs at Harveys Resort Hotel/Casino.
Gaming executives cite a myriad of reasons for the change.
Traditionally, card players tend to be older gamers.
“Cards were something everybody learned in the army,” Packer said. A certain generation, from World War II, are very familiar and comfortable (with the complexities of the various games). It took awhile for boomers to catch on and enjoy it.”
In the meantime, the generation that grew up with PacMan and Donkey Kong are turning 21. Gaming technology continues to introduce new slot machines to keep them interested, machines Packer referred to as “silicon gaming.”
“The video-arcade generation is now coming of age,” said Dave Hallabuk, the vice president of casino operations at Caesars Tahoe and former head of the slot department.
The new 21-year old is accustomed to technique-based games – them against a machine – rather than people-based games such as Monopoly, he said.
“The player challenges the machine and no one else has an effect on that game,” Hallabuk said. “In Blackjack, a dealer and five or six players all can affect the outcome.”
Though Caesars continues to reap more of its revenue from table games due to its higher-end customer base, Hallabuk said, the ratio and certainly the look of slot machines has changed for that casino also.
New games also keep slot players coming back.
While the game of Blackjack has not changed in a 100 years, new slot machine games are continually introduced as well as new jackpot possibilities.
“Today, the slot player, literally, has a dozen mega-jackpots to choose from,” Hallabuk said. “Slot machines continue to evolve with new looks, new bonuses, new games.”
New machines also involve more decision-making games, introducing a traditional component of table games into slot play while maintaining the one-on-one game.
As new players are introduced to the gaming industry many prefer to learn on slots.
“Slots are a little easier to learn and less intimidating because no one is looking over (the players) shoulder,” Harveys’ Ledbetter said.
Because the player is changing, so is the casino.
“A lot has to do with what the public wants,” Packer said. Referring to the recent closure of its poker room, he said, “If players would rather play poker in Emeryville (Calif.), they’ve voted with their feet on poker.”
The number of employees and where they work have also changed.
“It costs a lot less to run a slot department than a table game department,” Caesars’ Hallabuk said.
In an area with a dozen tables, the casino would need 12 dealers and two pit supervisors, he said. In the same area, 60 slots machines would require one change person and, perhaps, one supervisor.
“The cost of running a department is still about labor (it’s still the same players with the same perks and complimentary drinks).”
Whatever the reasons, increasing the slot-to-table ratio makes business sense.
“Slots are now the dominant revenue producing device in the industry,” Hallabuk said. “The revenue is shifting so it makes sense for them to react. … It’s sound logical business experience to reduce expenses and increase revenue.”
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