|By Delen Goldberg, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 05, 2011--Shows, restaurants and even resort rooms were once just bait to lure gamblers into Las Vegas casinos.
But with the economy flat-lining and competition for gamblers growing in other markets, top casino executives now consider gaming to be just one tool in their arsenal to attract tourists and their dollars to the Strip.
Appearing in tandem Wednesday to present a keynote address during the Global Gaming Expo, six of the most influential women in the gaming industry agreed that diversification is key to casinos' success.
"It's about expanding the amenities we offer to guests," Caesars Entertainment executive Jan Jones said. "We have to focus on things that consolidate visitors, not just gaming play."
With less capital to invest, resorts increasingly have to decide whether to spend $200,000 on 10 slot machines or an entire restaurant renovation. Years ago, the restaurant would never have figured into such an equation.
"Customers used to dine, see a show and they'd have a certain gaming budget to spend," said Virginia McDowell, CEO of Isle of Capri Casinos headquartered in Missouri. "Now, we have to compete not just for the gaming dollars but for the leisure dollars."
"Our experience has to compete in a much higher way," IGT CEO Patti Hart added.
With consumers guarding every dollar, competition comes not just from other gaming companies but from entertainment venues. That could be a movie theater or a McDonald's.
IGT is fighting back using technology to beef up slot machines to make them more interactive for customers. The Isle of Capri decided to pull out of the global market and focus instead on its core domestic properties. Caesars is trying to diversify with projects such as Linq, its upcoming outside shopping and entertainment promenade that's aimed at XY-generation customers.
"The intent is to bring people to the urban center," Jones said. "Then they will visit your casino."
Las Vegas averages 40 million visitors a year. By some estimates, Macau could overtake Vegas, and worldwide gaming, by 2015. Last year, it boasted almost 20 million tourists.
"For us, it's about getting more than our fair share of the market share," said Akiko Takahashi, an executive with Melco Crown Entertainment, a casino operator in Macau.
Macau resorts earn 95 percent of their revenue from gaming, Takahashi said. In Las Vegas, the figure is closer to 60 percent.
Caesars hopes to stop the bleed in part by expanding. Jones said the company is moving ahead with plans to build a casino in Cleveland, is exploring development in Massachusetts and is in discussions with officials in Florida. It also recently made a bid for a gaming license in Maryland.
Could so many casinos oversaturate the market? The women weren't concerned.
Gaming is "the most underserved form of entertainment in the United States," Jones said. She, like her colleagues, blamed government regulation.
Online gaming also could help the industry expand and return gambling to the trump position, the women said. While some people argue online gaming could cannibalize brick-and-mortar casinos, the executives said legal play would instead direct new customers to properties.
"Technology is begging for us to reach consumers we are not reaching today," Hart said.
(c)2011 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
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