Roberto Coppola has heard the talk that younger people, particularly those in the so-called millennial generation, don’t enjoy gambling. He’s willing to wager that’s not the case.
“Gambling is in our DNA,” Coppola said.
For more than 15 years, Coppola, who serves as global director of market research and consumer insights at YWS Design and Architecture in Las Vegas, has worked with casinos and others in the gaming industry to find why people come to casinos, and why they don’t.
Coppola believes the question is not whether millennials will gamble, but rather how can the industry convince this younger audience of the entertainment benefits of gambling.
The challenge for casinos is real, and has set many gaming industry executives and planners scrambling to find the right mix of games and other entertainment attractions that will draw in the next generation of gamblers and maintain revenue streams, which in recent years have largely plateaued.
The problem is not necessarily drawing them to casinos. According to a survey conducted on behalf of the American Gaming Association, nearly 4 in 10 people 35 and younger reported visiting a casino in 2012.
But the task is complicated by the seemingly drastically different tastes between the younger generations and those preceding them. The divide is particularly evident when examining the appeal of slot machines and similar games. While slots have grown and evolved over the decades into casinos’ biggest revenue generator, millennials just aren’t all that interested in playing them. Coppola and others, such as Darion Lowenstein, chief marketing officer at Glendale, Calif.-based gaming technology firm Gamblit Gaming, are working to help casinos reinvent themselves.
“If you walk through a casino, rarely will you see anyone even younger than 45 sitting at a slot machine,” Lowenstein said.
In his industry research, Coppola said millennials frequently describe slots as being “boring,” “nonintuitive” and “antisocial,” among other terms.
While older players may visit casinos trying to win, data appears to indicate millennials are drawn by experiences, such as nightlife, concerts and other entertainment. When millennials do gamble, many tend to stick to more social table games more reliant on skill — but less lucrative for casinos — such as poker or blackjack, the AGA survey found.
And with millennials now surpassing baby boomers as the largest generation in the U.S., destination cities like Las Vegas and regional gaming properties have begun to respond to the popular demands of younger players.
At Twin River Casino, just north of Providence, R.I., for example, the casino opened a 16-table poker room open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide an alternative to its more than 4,500 slot machines and other traditional table games.
“When we first launched it, it would be open from noon into the evening, and we’d have lines of people waiting to get in,” Twin River Casino spokeswoman Patti Doyle said. “We’ve had an unbelievably favorable response, especially from younger players.”
The casino also upgraded its entertainment offerings, opening a new grill and pub, serving craft beer and offering weekend entertainment. An attached 3,500-seat events center also offers a range of entertainment, including concerts and mixed martial arts and boxing matches, which Doyle said also appeal to younger visitors.
Moving forward, Coppola and Lowenstein said casinos will need to do more to boost their appeal to younger players. The key, they said, lies in finding ways to allow millennials to gamble while playing the kinds of socially immersive digital games that many now do on their phones or video game devices.
Lowenstein noted Gamblit hopes to place its line of new machines on casino floors later this year, pending regulatory approval. The game tables and “game stations,” as Gamblit refers to them, would each feature multiple games for players to choose from. All would feature games that players could easily and quickly pick up, while offering them the chance to compete either against the house individually or even against fellow players for money.
“We’re taking products people already know and play, and we’re adding a wagering opportunity,” Lowenstein said.
In many ways, he said Gamblit’s products would more resemble what players might find at an arcade outlet such as Dave & Busters, rather than slot machines in which “players just press a button.”
“For a while now, we’ve predicted there would be a natural, healthy merger of the (video) gaming world and the casino world,” Lowenstein said. “And now we’re beginning to see it.”
In addition to new gameplay opportunities, Coppola said casinos will benefit by rearranging the casino floor, reducing the emphasis on slots and making room for more open social spaces and collaborative games.
He said casinos also are continuing to improve the scope and breadth of entertainment opportunities, pointing to recent projects in Las Vegas, such as the new Topgolf flagship location at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Topgolf offers players the chance to hit golf balls at high-tech hitting bays, and includes bars, meeting spaces, a concert venue and other entertainment opportunities.
Coppola believes venues such as these will only help bridge the gap with younger players and keep legacy properties and keep them from going the way of struggling wagering venues, such as horse racing tracks.
“How people do things change, but basic needs, like the desire for entertainment, don’t,” Coppola said. “And that means we need to be constantly adapting and innovating.”
Freelance writer Jonathan Bilyk contributed to the writing and research of this article.