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22 December 2008

Las Vegas Checks In On Fans and Gamblers

Thanks to Paul Moran to sparking some interesting debate during this frigid winter about this anachronistic sport. I pulled myself out of the local OTB just long enough to read the posts and jump in with a comment of my own. To settle this argument you have to go to the top of the gambling world, Las Vegas. Las Vegas was once of town of smooth independent operators who catered to gamblers and turned a rest stop in the middle of the desert to the largest gambling mecca in the world. Then Vegas took a detour from its reputation of taking care of gamblers after a corporate takeover. Now that everything has settled in Vegas horse racing can learn from Las Vegas' family marketing experiment of the 1990's. After this adventure in casual fans does Vegas 2009 cater to gamblers or casual guests?

Now Extinct MGM Grand Theme Park 1998

While horse racing is a sport, it is also gaming and has more in common with gaming since horse racing feeds at the same trough as gaming. Ball sports make their hay from broadcasting rights and ticket sales. Horse racing has much to learn from Las Vegas' casual fan adventure of the 1990's. When Vegas casino ownership transitioned from independent operators to corporate operators in the late 1980's and early 1990's the new corporate ownership was looking for growth markets. Always sapped for new ideas the new corporate ownership leaned on the highly successful corporate giant Disney as the example to model their marketing plans after. Theme parks were built, character costumes were donned and Vegas marketed heavily to the casual gaming fan, the family. Instead of going out for a weekend of blackjack families were going to Vegas to ride the roller coaster at the Stratosphere and the suits hoped that dad and mom would drop a grand on the Wheel Of Fortune slots. It did not work out that way as these casual guests were taking the place of the old gamblers who where the lifeblood of the industry. Marketing to the casual fan and the family was a complete disaster for Las Vegas and was quickly abandoned.

Corporate run casinos like MGM Grand built theme parks on their property to attract families to go to Vegas. Circus Circus constructed the adventure dome, NY NY built a roller coaster outside on the strip and the Excalibur build a midway strait out of your local carnival. Millions and millions were invested to attract a casual non-traditional gambling crowd. It was billed as the new family friendly Vegas and the experiment ended as a complete failure.

Circus Circus Adventuredome Another Casual Fan Failure

Slick operators like Steve Wynn of Mirage and Bellagio fame, who had a gambling background stretching back to New Jersey bingo games did not take the family route and profited while the corporate new jacks floundered. While MGM grand was wasting it's time and rooms on stiffs riding roller coasters Wynn was filling the rooms with the action junkies and hardcore gamblers that filled the coffers of the casino. Horse Racing should do everything in it's power to emulate Steve Wynn and how he aggressively marketed to whales and other known gamblers. MGM Grand has learned its lesson and has since closed MGM Grand adventures and replaced it with only 29 luxury bungalow suites designated to attract high rollers to stay at it's property. MGM grand learned the hard way that 29 high rollers produce more revenue that an entire theme park full of casual fans. The Beaver family is out and Tommy The Fish who loves to roll those bones in. The Casinos like Circus Circus and Stratosphere that kept their family attractions have not fared very well.

Bungalow Suites That Replaced The MGM Theme Park Las Vegas

Do any racetrack get it? NYRA should be commended as the braintrust there finally understands. NYRA offered a nice comped Breeders Cup buffet to it's best players and also a luxury VIP room to the better players at Aqueduct. The attempt to market Curlin this year as an attendance driver was a complete failure. The free buffet and VIP room are the kinds of things gamblers like, they want to feel loved before they get screwed by photo finish on the wire. The more the gamblers feel loved the more they will bet and the better the game will get which will draw in the casual fans too. The casual fans are nice to have around, but are more like browsers in a store, a store needs to value its customers over its browsers.


Managed Risk said...

Nice article Greg. I have been in this game 34 years and there needs to be a drastic change in the way the race track management treats it's customers.

Simple measures like you discussed is a start. NYRA dropping the parking/admission for the remainder of the year was a nice perk to a day at the races.

The raising of the takeout is simply an insidious principle enacted by those who refuse to look at the fact that in all studies when the takeout was reduced the handle increases.

Management needs to either hire a guy like yourself to instruct about what horseplayers really want in order to continue to attract new fans and stimulate the existing players.

Continued success with your blog and your gambling in 2009

Anonymous said...

A lot has changed..and for the worse, that is.