By Dan Dickson
According to a survey conducted by the American Gaming Association (AGA), average casino visitors generally mirror the national population when it comes to gender, age, education, income, and vacation and entertainment interests.
One-fourth of the adult population, or nearly 55 million people, gambled in a casino during 2010, down slightly from 28 percent in 2009.
“We wanted get a better sense of who our visitors are and what are their habits. So our annual State of the States report has more data about the visitor experience,” said Holly Wetzel, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based association, which represents the commercial casino-entertainment industry while also acting as an information clearinghouse. The survey, conducted in February, included 550 past-year casino visitors. Participants did not have to be casino gamblers to be interviewed.
There appears to be a significant gender gap when it comes to who gambles at casinos, with 27 percent of men placing bets compared to only 22 percent of women. As for age, 58 percent of casino visitors are at least 50 years old.
Casino visitors are also better educated than you might think. About 70 percent have completed college, have a postgraduate degree, or have attained some level of college or vocational education.
Casino visitors are active travelers and enjoy getting out and doing things more than the general survey population. More than half (55 percent) of casino visitors took a vacation of five nights or more in the past year.
Lottery most popular
The survey revealed that playing the lottery was still the most popular form of gambling, with nearly half (49 percent) playing in the past year. One quarter (25 percent) gambled in a casino, 12 percent played poker at home or at a casino, and only 1 percent placed a wager online.
However, the survey also showed that not everyone who visits a casino gambles, because casinos offer more these days than in the past.
“That’s not a surprise. We’ve known for a long time that people who come to casinos like to take advantage of all of the things there, like fine dining, shopping, shows and so on,” said Wetzel. “What I think was interesting, was that 16 percent of casino visitors rarely or never gambled. That means they’re seeing the casino as an entertainment opportunity exclusive of the casino. I don’t know that we expected it to be that high.”
According to the poll, casino visitors want to enjoy the full range of nongaming options. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of patrons ate at a fine-dining restaurant; more than half (56 percent) saw a concert, show or other live entertainment; and almost half (47 percent) went shopping. It is apparent that casinos help draw customers to other businesses.
“Two of the most interesting takeaways from the polling are that casino visitors are more active in their leisure time, going on vacation, to the movies, concerts, sporting events, museums and amusement parks more often than the general public; and that many visit other attractions, restaurants or retail areas outside of the casino during their casino visits,” said AGA president and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. in his introduction to the State of the States.
The data indicate that gamblers, by nature, are more willing to try new things, like restaurants, games and technology.
More than slots
Wenzel went on to say that in some regional casino markets, people come to casino properties because there is also a movie theater or a bowling alley that provides family entertainment. “If they want to head to the casino after that, that’s great too. We are happy to have people’s business no matter what they’re enjoying at our facilities.”
The AGA says that elaborate nongaming amenities have been designed and developed at various casino properties nationwide specifically to attract people who never bet a single dollar.
An example is Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the nation. Construction is under way on a $500 million mid-Strip development called LINQ that will include a 550-foot Ferris-wheel-type attraction. It will “link” the Imperial Palace and the Flamingo resort.
“It is a multifaceted entertainment streetscape with restaurants and bars, and there will be no gambling at all,” said Wetzel. “The idea is to attract younger demographics, the casino customers of tomorrow. But I will say that if you go into a casino today, you’ll see, especially on a weekend or evening, a broad cross-section of ages represented.”
Some may believe that the demographics of gamblers must have changed in the past decade with the swift expansion of gambling from coast to coast, but that’s not necessarily true, says the AGA. The data continue to suggest that a wide cross-section of Americans are gambling.
“There have been only some very slight changes in age, income and education,” Wetzel said.
During 2008 and 2009, the casino industry saw declining revenues. Although visitation rates remained fairly high, people spent less. That trend is easing somewhat.
But Wetzel said casino gamblers have always been somewhat budget-conscious — no change there.
“We do a lot of work on responsible gaming and how to keep gambling fun. One of the key tenets of responsible gaming is setting limits for yourself, and by and large, the general population understands that setting a budget before you visit a casino is smart,” she said.
When antigambling forces claim that casinos are going to be the death of communities, Wetzel suggests critics “just look at the state next to you.”
She said that communities have not fallen into disarray and that about 80 percent of the American population believe that gambling is acceptable for themselves and others.
“While they may not gamble themselves, by and large they think casino gambling is acceptable entertainment.”