When I was a child growing up in Brooklyn, my parents would take my brother and me to Manhattan to see the first run of films at Radio City Music Hall as a special treat. Yes, that theater, famous for the Rockettes and many notable concerts, was also a grand movie hall in the middle of the last century. Even outside of New York City, most towns had a large movie theater where customers enjoyed the cinema. They usually were large, very ornate and ultra-exclusive. No more.
And remember LPs? I have about 1,000 records from the 1960s and ’70s in boxes in a closet in my house. During those years, an LP was a true work of art. Scattered among those LPs are a few boxes with eight-track and cassette tapes.
What’s the point of this trip down memory lane? As quaint as we now view those movie theaters or LPs, they are things of the past, never to be duplicated. So my question this month is, could this happen to the casino as we know it today?
The big movie companies failed to respond, first to television, which kept people home as the visual medium entered the domicile, and second to VCRs, videotapes and now Blue Ray discs. It’s a very rare movie today that makes money on its theatrical release. Most depend upon the DVD sales, cable TV presentations or online downloads for profits.
And the music industry kept its head in the sand for years until the sales of CDs had virtually disappeared. The free download model pioneered by Napster didn’t disappear when that groundbreaking company did. Apple’s iTunes actually saved a small bit of revenue for the companies, but the time of platinum-selling albums or CDs is long gone.
So now that online gaming is going to become the law of the land worldwide within the next few years, what will the casino of the future look like? That is very hard to tell right now, because we don’t know the proclivity of people to gamble at a site that can be trusted. Even in Europe, where online gambling has been legal for nearly a decade, rules and regulations vary from one jurisdiction to another. The collapse of Full Tilt Poker because of last year’s indictment in the U.S. has burned as many European online gamblers as it has their U.S. counterparts. Only now is the European Union trying to consolidate regulations across the continent.
So, the jury is still out on how the online casino will impact the land-based casino. But if you can gamble anywhere, whether it be on your home or office computer or your mobile phone, what need is there, really, for a full-fledged casino?
Certainly, you lack the social interaction that is so enjoyable at a real casino. Those table games just aren’t the same without the guy at third base hitting a stiff or that moron at the other end of the crap table betting the don’t. But if you’re planning to head out to your local casino and it starts to rain or snow, why hassle? Just sit down on the computer to get your daily gambling fix.
Now that will be great if your local casino has a successful online casino. They’ll stay in touch with you and won’t lose your patronage if you decide to stay home and play. But what happens if the state legalizes online gaming for its lottery rather than its casinos? That changes the dynamics in a major way.
And what about the mega-casino or integrated resort? What impact will this dynamic have on them? Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Singapore, Macau? Will the “mass market” that ensures the success of each of these regions stay home or continue to show up?
For years, we’ve referred to our business as “casino entertainment,” and now the ball is in our court to bring that label to life. A casino resort has to be more than just gambling. You can stay home to fix yourself a nice meal, but nothing compares to going to that great restaurant and getting served. You can shop online, but you can’t hold the item in your hand or try it on. And you can watch a performance of an artist, but you can’t experience the thrill of that personal bonding.
Yes, the casino industry is changing, and we can’t make the mistake that the movie and music industries made. We have to embrace the changes and plan for future success.