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The Cranky Skeptic

I spent a lot of time this year at G2E at sessions and in discussions with people about subjects such as millennials, eSports, daily fantasy sports, skill games and more. How do they apply to what's happening here and now?

The Cranky Skeptic

This column is probably going to make me look like a grumpy old man, and there’s a lot of truth in that, so I won’t deny it.

I spent a lot of time this year at G2E at sessions and in discussions with people about subjects such as millennials, eSports, daily fantasy sports, skill games and more. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what these issues mean for today’s casinos. How do they apply to what’s happening here and now? And I still haven’t figured that out.

Let’s talk millennials. As I mentioned in my column two months ago, these folks aren’t a slam-dunk either to become slot players or to bring significant dollars to the table (or machine, for that matter). And why are we worrying about them right now? The oldest millennials are 35, the youngest in their early 20s. I don’t ever recall people that young being casino customers at any time over the last 35 years I’ve been covering the industry. Sure, there were a few anomalies over the years, but for the most part, you really became a casino customer at 40 and moved up from there.

And as a baby boomer, I’m a little jealous of the attention being paid to millennials over my generation. What are we, chopped liver? We’ve still got at least 20 good years left, and if we have to go into a casino and hear hip-hop in any of our favorite venues, you’ve lost us. I’m hoping that we can scoot around casinos in our motorized wheelchairs and walkers for many years to come.

And the panic that we’re simply not luring millennials into casinos now simply doesn’t hold water. Steve Ruddock, writing for USPoker.com, reports that visitor information from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority shows that in the last three years, casino visitation by 20-29-year-olds has jumped from 10-13-percent to as high as 19 percent. They may not be coming to gamble, but at least they’re coming. And who’s to say they won’t become slot players like their parents once they hit 40? Stay calm and enjoy us baby boomers while you’ve got us.

And what about daily fantasy sports (DFS)? Legalized for gambling over the internet—because that’s what is, despite their claims—by a loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, DFS has grown exponentially, but without any control or regulation. That industry is paying for it now, so let’s be glad we didn’t jump on that bandwagon.

Another bandwagon is set to roll, however, with eSports, and the casino industry is considering jumping on board. To be clear, eSports is competitive video gaming (think World of Warcraft, Halo, Call of Duty, etc.) in a tournament setting. This is an incredibly popular spectator event with the younger generation, watching experts play these games.

No, I don’t get it either, but it is working. So will these people actually bet on these players? Uncertain, but also very dangerous. How could you even tell when someone is throwing a game? Beware.

And my favorite is skill games. Suddenly, skill games are the savior of gaming, the silver bullet that will entice all these millennials to become slot players before their time. OK, again, stay calm and look at what we’re considering.

Skill players have never been a favorite in a casino. Let’s recap the response of casinos on one game where skill can really make a difference.

Blackjack is a game of skill, proven to be by Edward Thorp in his groundbreaking 1962 book, Beat the Dealer. But just look at the debasement of blackjack rules in recent years. When you reduce the payout for blackjack from 3-2 to 6-5 you put skill players at a significant disadvantage. And remember, basic strategy players do not have an edge over the house. Only card counters can achieve that, so changing the rules affects all players in addition to the very, very small percentage of card counters at whom it is aimed. It is counterproductive.

So how can casinos even claim to be encouraging skill slot players if they really are going to give them the best of it? Of course, that will never be the case.

We’ll have lots of discussions about these and other topics in the coming months to determine what really works for casinos in the future. But don’t forget us old folks. We’re still around, and still spending money.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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