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Alive & Kicking

Gambling in the US is alive and well but less of a gamble as part of the entire non-gaming model. 2016 has shown modest revenue uptick in New Jersey and Nevada gaming. By: Robert Ambrose

With the recent release of year-end gambling figures for both Atlantic City and Nevada, we see a modest upturn in gaming numbers and or stabilization at best.

According to the recent State figures out of Atlantic City, gaming is up 1.5% in 2016. Casino win $2.6 billion.

It must be noted that the last time New Jersey saw a gaming revenue increase was 2006. By coincidence it was also the last time I worked in a casino in New Jersey. Just saying!

Of course the on-line gaming component in New Jersey played a part and with the close of the Taj Hotel Casino; business has settled in at the other seven properties.

In Nevada “the state’s biggest casinos have ended seven straight years of loss,” now showing a stabilization within pre-recession levels according to recent reports.

But don’t break out the champagne yet. Of course the contributor to the stability in net income and modest revenue increases throughout the states is the result of a balancing act of reducing cost, new product, effective marketing of those products and the expansion of non-gaming amenities which can contribute to some additional gaming spend while the customers are on property.

Could this reflect a better economic climate? I would like to think so. Yes I do think so. There does seem to be alittle more entertainment dollar out there.

It is also about the operators in their respective markets taking a more focused view and seeing opportunities for strategic marketing initiatives through niche opportunities, a more definable approach to generational differences, the integrating of non-gaming opportunities and a sensible analysis of where technology can be applied to keep the customer momentum going.

Thanks to the gaming industry’s manufacturing sectors and the technology they produce there has been a placement of a variety of service products that allow the customer more free time to take advantage of amenities as well as spending more time on device while gambling.

The previous customer service-failures in what could have been positive service opportunities in previous years in key areas such as hotel check in, casino floor activity and restaurant covers have benefited from simply having new ways to apply the model of service through technological innovations. The use of smart phone or kiosk check-in, more efficient casino operation management systems and software enhancements for restaurant and bar management have all contributed to a more consistent operating environment.

So back under my roof, here at the “Jersey Shore” we have seen Atlantic City and its complex infrastructure continually tested by a glut of border state gaming facilities, shifting customer interest, a variety of changing regulations, local facility integrity, union related issues, the state takeover of daily city business operations and another plan to reintroduce a referendum to host gaming elsewhere in the state - all contributing to its far from dynamic condition and impacting every stakeholder’s bottom-line. Sound familiar?

AC has always been a city rich with possibilities and it’s also been a survivor when some of those possibilities did not become reality. If you read between the lines, on the Atlantic City beach front there is a diverse market growing in front of us within reality based initiatives, property by property and by established stakeholders; as well as new investment prospects who see that this city is a cup half full, rather than half empty.

2016 and beyond is about the grass root re-development that is going on around Atlantic City. And I don’t say that to minimize the financial commitment of the projects. And by no means do I want to diminish the negatives of the past and the loss of jobs by recent casino/hotel closures. But we are seeing a one-step-at-a-time initiative by some of the corporate stakeholders that gives hope and a little back to the city image with each new venture.

Under the heading of “border states”, New Jersey’s neighbour, Pennsylvania, #2 in the gaming market share in the US with combined gross revenue from table games and slot machines hitting $3.21 billion last year has been in the midst of some competitive plans in 2017.

There is a push to finally add online casino games, and give the neighbouring state of NJ and Delaware some competition. When finally approved PA would be the largest state to offer online casino gambling in the US. Presently only Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware allow internet gambling.

Other items to be taken up at PA’s state house this year include, Daily Fantasy Sports betting and allowing slot machines at airports.

With PA looking to expand its gaming footprint, AC could face a battle on two fronts. Pennsylvania gambling’s initiatives and Atlantic City’s own states gambling desire to expand. (See Jan issue CL)

The east coast of the US is an interesting model to observe going forward as competition grows both in properties and product.

Bob Ambrose

Robert Ambrose is a Gaming & Hospitality Professor at the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management at Drexel University, Philadelphia.
His experience includes commercial casino development and gaming operations at the executive level. After a successful career in casino operations, Bob joined Drexel as a Gaming/Hospitality Instructor. Professor Ambrose continually collaborates with industry professionals and reports on the industry about his research through publications, lectures and consulting. Follow: @bobambrose