By now, we all know that the idea gaming is “recession-proof” is a complete fallacy. Even the hope that it was “recession-resistant” has gone by the wayside.
We also know gaming is suffering intensely during this current economic downturn. Thousands have lost their jobs. Millions in tax revenues have disappeared. Some of gaming’s most important companies are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. And the worst part is that there is no end in sight.
But, if I may be so bold, we have a potentially bigger problem: the perception that gaming is no longer acceptable entertainment when discretionary dollars are scarce.
In the 1930s, the Great Depression wiped out many companies and created an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, making our current situation seem like a mildly annoying week on Wall Street. It was a devastating time for the entire world.
One industry that thrived during this period was the movie business. No matter what troubles people had, they saved their nickels and dimes to be able to see a movie and escape from reality for a couple of hours.
Since there were no legal casinos anywhere in the U.S. until Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, we don’t know whether people stopped gambling.
Even today, the movie business hasn’t been hit as hard as most other industries, although it’s hard to quantify since revenues from DVDs play a big role in the bottom lines of movie companies, along with the theater revenue.
But what is disturbing for today’s casino industry is that people don’t seem to be viewing a visit to a casino as an option for their “escape” from the woes of everyday life. And if they do, they are much tighter with their gambling budgets than ever before.
This comes down to the perception of gambling. Unfortunately, it seems gambling is still seen as a “vice” and something that should be avoided when times are difficult and money is tight.
One need only to listen to the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, when he was chastising firms that received government bailouts.
“You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Obama. “There’s got to be some accountability and some responsibility.”
Wells Fargo was forced to cancel an incentive trip for its sales staff to Wynn Las Vegas, and Goldman Sachs moved a Las Vegas meeting to San Francisco after the Obama critique.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and other city officials were rightly upset about the president’s remarks. But it goes deeper than that. It demonstrates that gaming still has not taken that great leap forward and continues to be viewed as not legitimate when it comes to industries that are important.
Even in the so-called stimulus package, gaming gets specifically cut out of any distribution of appropriations. Not that we were asking for any—we’re not that stupid—but to create a carve-out for gaming is insulting.
When you consider that gaming actually employs more people than the auto industry—which went hat in hand to Congress and received billions of dollars in federal bailouts—there needs to be more respect and a greater acknowledgement of the role gaming plays in communities across the country. Especially in light of the many non-gaming states that are once again looking to gaming to stem the red ink flowing from their budgets.
So it’s back to the drawing board to figure out how and if we can ever change the perception of gaming as a vice.
Frank Fahrenkopf and the American Gaming Association have done a great job spreading the good word about gaming. They point out the positive impacts gaming has on communities, charities, employees, tourism and state tax revenues.
But they need the help of all casino employees and executives, and folks who work for companies that serve the casinos. We need to let our neighbors, public officials, local media outlets, local businesses, churches—anyone who will listen—understand that casinos are not the evil thing that we’re made out to be. We need to educate everyone on why gaming will continue to play a big role in the economic revival of the world.
And stop talking down to us!