Gambling in a casino traditionally was an anonymous activity. Players didn’t want to be known, to the point that many have resisted joining slot clubs to retain their anonymity. Consequently, outside of planned marketing, casinos traditionally forbade customers from even taking pictures inside a casino.
In general, you won’t get thrown out of a casino for snapping a cellphone photo of a slot jackpot these days, although in most places, it’s still officially frowned upon—and some casinos still forbid even a simple Instagram moment.
However, as more casinos warm up to the benefits of social media, those old traditions are beginning to fade. Some casinos now not only permit pictures, but a once-unthinkable practice—random video of gambling inside a casino.
The rise of YouTube and other social networks led to a new type of celebrity—the “YouTube star,” also called a “social media influencer.” These are people who establish credibility in a certain activity or industry and develop a large audience of followers on a social network. The No. 1 YouTube channel is Pewdiepie, run by Swedish comedian Felix Kjellberg, who hosts videos to more than 100 million followers worldwide in which he introduces and plays video games.
It was only a matter of time before the YouTube phenomenon reached casinos, where a number of channels are now run by “slot influencers” who pick a slot game and stream iPhone videos of themselves spinning reels, getting bonus rounds and winning jackpots. They host the sessions as if they were hosting a TV show or sporting event, doing play-by-play for every spin and getting excited like a sports announcer when big wins hit. And YouTubers eat it up, with slot-influencer YouTube videos garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
Some of the slot influencers are like rock stars on a casino floor, with instant recognition from fans who spend hours watching videos introducing the newest slot games. One of the most popular is Brian Christopher, whose BCSlots YouTube channel boasts more than 200,000 subscribers and more than 4 million views per month.
In the three years since Christopher began using an iPhone to film his own slot play, his fans have amassed 124 million views of his videos. The majority of Christopher’s fans are aged 18 to 44. Two-thirds are male, and most watch on their phones. In other words, Christopher’s followers are in the sweet spot of the younger demographic casinos are beginning to court to eventually replace the older female demographic that’s dominated the slot floor traditionally. And many casinos are beginning to welcome him with “open filming policies.”
Christopher, a former actor, launched his YouTube channel as a hobby in 2016. It’s now his full-time job. He tours casinos across the country, drawing crowds as he streams video of slot games in action. He even has an executive assistant who provides a second camera angle. Fans cheer him on as he plays, and thousands watch online. His YouTube channel hosts more than 1,700 videos, and they also are available on bcslots.com, his website. He has more than 10,000 email subscribers.
Casinos are taking notice. Mohegan Sun recently flew Christopher to Connecticut for that property’s first-ever live stream of slot play. While most big Las Vegas Strip casinos still forbid video, Christopher and other influencers are welcomed at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas because he brings his fans in the door with him, and his business is beginning to spread across the country as the pre-internet barriers begin to tumble.
“I wasn’t the first person to upload my slot play,” Christopher told GGB News. “There are a few channels that had already started doing that, but after my channel started, it definitely started going in a whole new direction.
“Cosmo is the only location on Strip that has an open filming policy. A few others have allowed some filming on occasion, including the Linq, Wynn, Aria and MGM, but it’s not necessarily the rule. I have yet to start visiting local casinos, but we have commenced reaching out to them recently. We have worked with multiple casinos in Michigan, Indiana, Atlantic City, Maryland, Oklahoma, Reno, Vegas, California and New York—around two dozen casinos and growing.”
Christopher says the growth of his fan base was 100 percent organic. “It was word of mouth, mainly,” he said. “I was completely shocked when my numbers started rising so fast at the beginning, because I was new to the whole YouTube world. And it just keeps growing, and whenever I see fans, most of them say, ‘Oh my sisters or my husband used to watch you all the time and now I watch.’”
Slot influencers also are the only people who can actually make a living playing slot machines, through ads on their YouTube pages, subscriptions, and swag sold on their websites. “Sometimes we’ll have sponsors for some videos, and there are other ways of generating income,” Christopher said.
While the number of casinos that allow folks like Christopher to do their thing is growing, he says San Manuel Casino in Highland, California and the Cosmopolitan and Plaza in Las Vegas are currently his biggest hosts.
“Social media influencers have been around since the early days of blogging,” Peter Arceo, general manager of San Manuel Casino, told GGB News. “I have always been on the lookout for positive influencers in our industry. I get excited when I see people having fun in videos from our floor and enjoying the thrilling atmosphere that our team works very hard to create for our guests.
“Working with influencers allows us to show how much fun our casino can be for slot players. Some audiences prefer to receive information through the lens of a person that they have come to trust and whose content they enjoy, rather than content published directly from a casino. Allowing an influencer to convey their perspective and their experience to their audience is just another way for us to reach those people.”
“I can absolutely say that the Cosmopolitan was the first in Vegas to embrace the slot filming community,” said Kevin Sweet, vice president of slot operations and marketing at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, in an interview with GGB News. “There was always a stigma that filming in a casino was completely illegal, which simply wasn’t true. We live in a social age. It’s 2019, and everyone has a cellphone. We can’t run from technology or the world around us. It was common sense from my perspective to find a way to let this type of activity happen in our casino.
“I’ve been pretty active with the slot influencer community since early 2016. I am in full support of anything that increases the popularity and reach of casino gaming, and slot-playing videos being posted on YouTube or live-streamed certainly do that.”
Sweet said there are simple ground rules, such as limiting filming to handheld devices and limiting videos to a player and one machine, but the activity boosts business, so it’s welcome.
The influencers appreciate it. “At the San Manuel and the Cosmo, anyone can just record their slot play if they want to or take photos, and they’re encouraged to do so,” Christopher said. “I was stopped by a security guard at the Cosmo and he said, ‘I just wanted you to know that what you’re doing is totally fine with us.’ And because of that, all my fans go to those two casinos.”
San Manuel’s Arceo says the influencer phenomenon has broadened the casino’s audience. “It has widened the audience of people who have become familiar with the San Manuel Casino brand,” he said. “People from as far away as Hawaii have talked to me about Brian. In fact, my cousins in Hawaii have told me that they watch his videos and can’t wait to visit the casinos that Brian has featured.
“We’ve done controlled tests, and in one case allowed Brian to host an event that was attended purely by his audience. The results were great, which is why we continue to work with influencers.”
Sweet reports similar results at the Cosmo. “For every one complaint or issue we encounter in this space, there are 25 interactions where a customer asks a member of my slot team about a machine location because they saw their favorite streamer playing it at my casino and now they want to go play it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s attracting any one particular demographic. This isn’t a millennial play, in my opinion. This is a play for people who like gambling, who like to see nice slot jackpots, and for people who share an interest and want to belong to a larger community.”
According to Christopher, while there is still widespread resistance to filming or even photographing slot play, things are slowly changing. “I know fans who have been removed from casinos because they didn’t want to delete a (jackpot) photo off their phone. And, I’ve been removed from the casino once before because I filmed a bonus.
“We’re slowly breaking down those barriers. We just filmed in Palm Springs, and it was the first time that they allowed such a thing, and part of it was due to the fact that they had some new people coming in because of social media. They recognize the power of an influencer.”
“Some of these influencers themselves partner with cruise lines and bring hundreds of people out for weeklong cruises; it’s very impressive,” said the Cosmopolitan’s Sweet. “Maybe I should hire them as casino hosts.”