Steve Geller named General Counsel of the National Counsel of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS); Speaks at NCLGS Winter Conference on casino saturation and what states can realistically expect in terms of Tourism from new casinos.
I attended the NCLGS Winter Conference in New Orleans, which was held from January 4-6. NCLGS is the only organization of State lawmakers that meets on a regular basis to discuss issues in regard to gaming. Members of NCLGS chair or are members of Legislative committees that are responsible for the regulation of gaming in their states. NCLGS does not promote or oppose gaming, but is primarily concerned with proper regulation of the gambling industry.
I was the founder of NCLGS in 1995 and was its long-time first President. I have remained very active in NCLGS, and was named its General Counsel at the Winter meeting.
On Sunday, January 6, I spoke on a NCLGS panel discussion. The topic for the panel was “When developing gaming public policy, legislators often envision casino out-of-state patrons who will do more than gamble in the casino. But with more than 1,000 casinos in 42 states, and with new casinos generally being built to smaller scale due to their proliferation, is it realistic to expect them to be tourism magnets? Are there many markets remaining where destination resorts could be developed to attract tourists? In this panel, operators will provide insight into what states can realistically expect, and what they must do to meet the goal of tourism promotion.”
In my remarks, I discussed the history of recent gaming expansion nationally. This included Indian casinos, “riverboats gambling” (which is generally not conducted on what most people would consider to be “riverboats”, racinos, and commercial casinos. The most common thread on the expansion of all of these except for Indian gambling is the desire for one state not to see its gambling dollars go to another state. Once one state starts a type of gambling, there is increased pressure on neighboring states to have similar types of gambling.
It seems clear that the proliferation of casinos is generally reaching saturation in most areas. For example, in the Northeastern United States, there appears to be a situation where new casinos are cannibalizing revenue from existing casinos. Total gaming revenue may go up, but revenue per casino appears to be going down. I gave quotes from both Moody’s and the American Gaming Association (AGA) discussing that while this appears to be most acute in the Northeast, it is a national issue.
It appears that building casinos by itself is no longer sufficient to attract new tourism. It is unclear if casinos by themselves have been enough to attract tourists in recent years, or if casinos were only helpful as part of a general resort that attracted people. Today, however, there is so much availability of casino gambling without the necessity of travelling that just providing additional opportunities for gambling will not attract tourism.
Many casinos today are being built on a smaller scale, and are designed to attract primarily local patrons as opposed to tourists. It seems that the new casinos that are attracting tourists are the “hubs” of the “hub and spoke” model. This seems to work better with large casino chains with robust loyalty programs where casino patrons can gamble locally, and then cash in player rewards at larger resorts, where casino gambling is only part of the attraction.
Food and beverage, shows, and other diversions are a must to attract tourism dollars. Las Vegas and Atlantic City have recognized this. For example, in Las Vegas in the 1990’s, over ½ of the casino revenue came from gambling, while today it’s down to about 1/3. As younger people lose interest in slot machines, which have traditionally been and remain the biggest gambling money-makers for casinos, casinos will need to do other things to attract people and remain relevant. Some things being discussed are sports gambling, skill-based gaming, E-sports, and even virtual reality gaming.
The most important thing to remember is that the tax rate set by a state will determine what type of gambling takes place in that state. Legislators will need to decide what is most important to them in their states. Hub resort casinos require a lower tax rate to be successful than does a “slots barn”. A state can make money on casino gambling with most tax rates, but lower tax rates result in more investment and jobs, while a higher tax rate can result in more total gambling-exclusive revenue. A tax rate of 6% may get a state a Wynn or Bellagio-style luxury resorts, a tax rate of 25% may get a state a nice hotel franchise casino, a tax rate of 60% may get a state slot machines at convenience stores. All may be viable models; all result in completely different outcomes based on the tax rate.
IN THE BEGINNING, there was Las Vegas. A rib was taken from the side of Las Vegas, which became Atlantic City. Las Vegas and Atlantic City begat Tunica and Riverboats and Indian Casinos and Pennsylvania and on and on and on. Soon people (mostly gambling experts, analysts, and business owners) began wondering when all this begetting would start to cause problems with saturation in the gambling industry. We now know.
According to the Associated Press, Atlantic City, which started 2014 with 12 casinos, may be down to 9 casinos by the end of 2014. The Atlantic Club has already closed, Revel says that it will close unless another company purchases it, and Caesars Entertainment says that it plans to close down the Showboat Casino at the end of this August.
A look at the map of the Mid-Atlantic region helps to explain the woes of Atlantic City. New Jersey is surrounded by New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Delaware has long had casino gambling, New York is adding it, and Pennsylvania has become the 600 pound gorilla of casino gambling in the east, second only to the 800 pound gorilla of Nevada. Maryland and Connecticut are also nearby, adding to the competition.
Although the ongoing expansion of casino gaming continues, and it is difficult to determine where and when saturation will occur, we now have a clear example that saturation can and will occur when there are too many gambling opportunities with too few gamblers.