For casinos to survive, they have to find a way to appeal to younger folks. Millennials, for example. Born between 1982 and 2004, they include those who came along at the change of the millennium, hence the name.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, casinos tried to lure this generation, not with slot machines and blackjack, but with trendy restaurants, hot clubs, and concerts. Casinos are back, but those elements are not, at least in Atlantic City, for the time being.
Mike Donovan, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Ocean Casino Resort, said when the casinos re-opened the first weekend in July, he noticed a lot fewer younger people than in the pre-Covid-19 days, according to Brett Johnson in ROI-NJ.com.
“It’s certainly an older crowd right now than it was this time last year, when you had nightlife, day life and sports betting,” he said.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City President Joe Lupo has a similar story.
“Considering the restriction of no alcohol, smoking and indoor dining, customer visitation was obviously lower than last year for all age demographics,” he said.
But even in good times, millennials don’t comprise a large segment of the gaming customer population, Lupo said.
Jane Bokunewicz, an associate professor of hospitality at Stockton University, provided some stats, based on several studies she conducted at the Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism, where she serves as coordinator.
“Millennials were most interested in restaurants, bars, happy hours—things like that,” she said. “Those are the amenities they look for when going for a night out. 80 percent look to restaurants, 70 percent bars and lounges, 66 percent listed happy hours and only 20 percent listed gambling.”
Gambling leads the list of reasons to come to casinos for 42 percent of over-35 individuals. For millennials, it ranks 21, Bokunewicz said.
“Millennials do enjoy casinos, too, but they’re more interested in the social aspect of it than counterparts in other generations,” she said. “It seems like they want to do it in groups, even when it comes to something like playing slot machines.”
Millennials may be less likely than older generations to practice social distancing and donning a mask when playing, she said. “Because millennials are so social, I don’t know if younger people will return to casinos as quickly.”
Millennials are also unfortunately stricken with high rates of college debt, so spend much more time online and enjoy many forms of entertainment, which differs from how the baby boomer generation evolved, Lupo said.
Online gaming has been touted by some as the answer to the millennial question.
Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayNJ.com, said millennials have seen online forms of gaming as more attractive to sitting at slot machines. And online poker has seen explosive growth during the pandemic.
“For the past several months, in New Jersey and elsewhere, online poker has seen more than a doubling of revenue while people are cooped up at home,” he said. “That might slow down as physical casinos open up.”
Donovan said newer machines on casino floors are meant to appeal to a younger demographic.
Also, what’s true of millennials today might not be true tomorrow as they age.
“I think about myself and how my behaviors have changed since I was 25 and going to Las Vegas mostly for clubs, food and the typical nightlife activities,” Donovan said. “…Your habits and tendencies change a lot in your 20s and 30s. So, I expect we’ll see that.”
In a sense, millennials resemble Las Vegas itself in how it evolved from a gaming to a non-gaming destination, Lupo said. “As individuals grow older, salary, debt and interests also change, therefore, there is more opportunity to speak to them as a travel, foodie or entertainment enthusiast to a resort destination that also provides gaming.”