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Gambling games wrong now

Postby Zulkilmaran В» 21.01.2020

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One of the hot-button issues in the gaming industry — as well as many other industries — is the problem of marketing to millennials. The term "millennial" broadly refers to anyone born between and ; and with a population of 87 million, millennials are a group which outnumber Baby Boomers 76 million and will account for one-third of all retail spending within the next five years. Millennials also have casino operators and industry observers alike scratching their heads, as they don't seem to gamble as much — particularly on slot machines — as the industry would like.

Much has been written speculating why this is so. All of the above may be true, but except for the last point are almost certainly the right answers to the wrong questions. For starters, casino operators and the Las Vegas Strip in particular have had little difficulty attracting millennials and getting them to show up — the cause of consternation seems to be with the amounts that millennials don't gamble. And it's not even that millennials don't gamble — with gaming expansion, the poker boom, and various forms of online and mobile gaming, millennials have more experience gambling than any generation to come before it — but rather that millennials aren't gambling on the things the gaming industry wants them to gamble on slots.

What's more, that factoid regarding Strip gaming revenues represents one of the grossest misinterpretations of data going around more on that point a little later. The problem is, virtually all of the discussion regarding millennials has centered on abstract explanations seeking abstract solutions, when the biggest problem is likely far more fundamental than that.

Few if anybody discussing the millennial problem have discussed it in the context of the declining economics of gambling itself. The simple fact is that people in general are gambling less, while the economics of gambling have worsened considerably over the past two decades.

In one very important respect, there has never been a worse time to be a casual non-advantage gambler in the history of legalized gambling in the United States. Let's start with two equations. The first is the law of demand , which will be familiar to anyone who has studied entry-level microeconomics:. For example, the house advantage on the Pass Line bet in craps is 1.

Prices have been on the rise for the past two decades, as casino operators have continually pulled on the house advantage lever. The graph shows the change in slot hold percentages covering 16 states effectively representing the commercial gaming industry plus two Indian casinos in Connecticut going back to In the 16 jurisdictions included in the Applied Analysis study, the aggregate slot hold percentage was 6.

Indeed, slot play is more expensive to the gambler than ever before. Meanwhile, higher hold percentages have been further exacerbated by technology: According to a white paper issued by slot manufacturer WMS -- now a unit of Scientific Games — game speed has increased dramatically , rising from around eight spins per minute in to spins per minute in In short, the slot player is losing more money faster than ever before.

And there is ample evidence in recent years to suggest that this is now coming at the expense of volume. In its report, Applied Analysis also observed that slot machine handle the total amount wagered — or volume — on slot machines in the United States has dropped markedly since the Great Recession, even while personal income has increased. In other words, it's clear that Americans are spending less and less of their income on slot machines. So that's slot machines, where changes in house advantage are generally felt rather than seen aside from video poker, you generally can't determine what a given slot machine's payback rate is simply by looking at it.

What about table games, where table games players are generally more sophisticated than slot players, and where the house advantage is far more visible?

Let's do some value shopping. Let's say you're visiting the Las Vegas Strip and are looking to play table games. Which of the following options look the most appealing to you?

Blackjack has traditionally been the game that smart people play, largely because blackjack games have traditionally been beatable by card counting as first popularized by Ed Thorpe in his classic Beat the Dealer , but also because the game has traditionally been the lowest edge game in the casino under basic strategy. As such, blackjack looks like a reasonably fair bet at 0. Baccarat also looks reasonable at 1. Alternatively, if you're a bigger bettor and are willing to bet 3. As I wrote earlier this year, blackjack games in general are disappearing.

In , there were 2, blackjack tables in the state of Nevada, down from 3, units in However, these games aren't just disappearing: Some of the remaining games have been slapped with continuous shuffling machines CSMs to combat card counting, but most have been replaced outright by higher-edge blackjack games paying for blackjack which adds 1.

Moreover, the blackjack games paying are no longer just the single-deck variety, as was the case when they were first introduced over a decade ago; nowadays, even six-deck and eight-deck games can be prominently found with payoffs, with house advantages as high as 2. Even craps may not be safe. Wynn Resorts recently caused a stir when it reduced its craps odds at the Wynn and Encore to 2x, from the mostly Strip standard 3x-4x-5x.

Now, instead of being able to wager 3. As was the case with blackjack, there's a non-zero chance that this could become the norm rather than the exception on the Strip. Consequently, if you are a smaller-stakes bettor visiting the Las Vegas Strip, your options are looking more and more like this:. Consequently, people who are knowledgeable about gambling are being systematically — if unintentionally — excluded from the market.

The most commonly cited figure in these types of discussions regarding millennials is the fact that gaming revenues as a percentage of total Las Vegas Strip revenues have been on a sharp decline. As the argument typically goes, the average Strip visitor is getting younger and younger; millennials are increasingly driving visitation, but are spending more money partying in nightclubs and less money gambling; therefore, millennials are less interested in casino gambling, which will become a problem going forward.

But the interpretation is wrong. What's happened in the past three decades is not that there is inherently less interest in gambling on the Strip, but rather that the market for Las Vegas has broadened beyond people who only come here to gamble.

In the mids, there were only two states in America with legal full-scale casinos: Nevada and New Jersey. Casino gambling was a destination product, something that visitors from elsewhere in America could not do at home. And the market for Las Vegas as primarily a gambling destination in was But with widespread Indian and riverboat gaming expansion throughout the s, Americans increasingly no longer had to travel to experience casino gambling.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas reinvented itself with increasingly high-end hotel casinos with accompanying dining and other entertainment options, starting with Steve Wynn's Mirage , followed by Kirk Kerkorian's MGM Grand , and then Bellagio , Mandalay Bay , and The Venetian This version of Las Vegas also came with an increased focus on convention business, and in all drew By this point, gaming was already less than half of total Strip revenues.

And it wasn't because gambling was less popular — in fact, gaming revenues more than tripled between FY and FY — but rather that Las Vegas was attracting a broader range of visitors than merely people who came primarily to gamble. This trend was furthered in the s with the rise of the nightclubs and dayclubs, heightening Las Vegas' reputation as a top global party destination with a top 10 DJ present every weekend.

The market for Las Vegas as a pure gambling destination is X people. When somebody points to that As we've already established, Las Vegas is a crappy place for the average Joe to come to gamble, as most of America can find better value gambles at smaller stakes in the local casinos in their own backyards. You've never gambled before, or perhaps just not in a certain casino or locale say, Las Vegas ; or there is some aspect of gambling perhaps different games or types of games you've never experienced before.

You gamble to make money, whether you are playing at an advantage or merely think you are playing at an advantage but really aren't. To hang out. You are gambling to hang out, perhaps with friends. You might be the type to bet the minimum on any given game, unless you also fit into the next category. You came to gamble.

You might be the type to bet the full odds on craps in order to bet the most at the lowest disadvantage. Here's the problem: Of the four basic reasons why people gamble listed above, the top two — novelty and profit — have been decimated.

The reality is that due to widespread gaming expansion in the U. The second category — people who gamble for profit — is more complicated. On the one hand, there are likely more people gambling for profit than at any point in the history of mankind.

However, such advantage gamblers typically play either poker or daily fantasy sports DFS and are of marginal or no value to the casino operator; or otherwise have negative value to the casino card counters, and other advantage players.

But of greater interest to the casino is the subcategory of gamblers who believe they can beat the casino but can't. As gaming has expanded and gaming markets have matured, fewer and fewer people are likely to incorrectly believe that they can beat casino games that are designed to be unbeatable. Moreover, millennials — who have come of age during and after the poker boom of the s, have the benefit of the Internet and all of the gambling knowledge that wasn't available to previous generations — are more knowledgeable and generally less stupid about gambling than any generation to come before us.

We are far less likely to believe, for example, that the Martingale system is valid. The point is: 1 Casino gambling in general has matured, and 2 millennials and the rest of America are doing what you would expect people to do when they become more knowledgeable about gambling -- gamble less in larger amounts for profit, and more in smaller amounts to hang out. If you ask anybody who's ever legitimately gambled for a profit — that is, someone who has played poker, blackjack, bet on sports or daily fantasy sports and yes, DFS is very much gambling , or video poker with a positive expectation — the defining feature that makes a gambling skill game a skill game is that such a game is beatable.

That is, the player can gain a mathematical advantage either over the casino or the opposition. In what some are desperately hoping is the solution to engage millennials, both New Jersey and Nevada have in the past year enacted legislation allowing for new types of games — slots or otherwise — with skill-based elements.

At present, nobody really knows what this means or what these games or machines will ultimately look like. The answer is both "yes" and "it depends. For starters, it's very not likely that new "skill-based" slots will be beatable with skill; rather, it is more likely that a slot player skilled at a certain element will simply lose less than a lesser skilled player. And though the New Jersey law enabled a free-throw shooting contest at Borgata earlier this year, such contests are not particularly repeatable or scalable.

On the other hand, we already know that skill-based slots can work, because we already have them: It's called video poker. However, the primary reason video poker machines have become as popular as they have is not merely because video poker has a super addictive quality or that it requires skill to lose less; the primary reason is because video poker games generally feature higher achievable payback rates lower house edges. The simplest demonstration that house edge is the primary factor is the fact that video poker machines are far more prominent in locals casinos than they are in destination casinos such as those on the Las Vegas Strip.

This is probably not because tourists don't like video poker, but rather because video poker machines in locals casinos generally feature higher payback paytables; locals who play longer and more frequently demand better value on their gamble.

Another prominent example of skill-based machines are the ubiquitous and loud pachinko machines in Japan. So the answer is generally "yes" — skill-based machines can be the answer, but "it depends" greatly on the implementation. If you're going to require skill, the player needs to be compensated for having skill.

In our discussion on blackjack and table games earlier this year, we introduced a concept I call the skill-free rate , which essentially is the lowest house advantage of a comparable game requiring no skill. The implication is two-fold:. That a game requiring skill should have a lower house advantage under optimal play than a comparable game requiring no skill. The more skill a game requires, the lower the house advantage needs to be to both compensate the player for acquiring the necessary skills, while avoiding over-penalizing lesser-skilled players.

Hence, if blackjack continues to increasingly become the preferred solution of casino operators, blackjack will continue to die a slow death. Otherwise, there will be no incentive for the player to develop the skills required to play the game. This is generally not the case, and is likely one of the reasons that hold percentages have been on the rise, as penny-denomination slots have come to dominate slot floors and the average bet on penny-denomination slots continue to rise see Frank Legato's excellent article entitled " Slot Floor Exodus " for Global Gaming Business.

Thus far, the millennial problem has been widely billed as a problem of a difference in preferences. And while I generally agree with most of the observations regarding millennials, none of that will matter if the bigger picture issue isn't resolved, which is that gambling value increasingly stinks.

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