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Las Vegas Gaming and the 2007-2010 Recession
Not unexpectedly, the recession did not affect all types of gaming equally in Nevada. It is interesting to see how the players reacted at different stages in the recession.
Stage 1 (Blackjack Falls) [July 2007 – March 2008]: According to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research the depression began in December of 2007. However, blackjack revenue started levelling around July of 2007. It may be a bell-ringer for future predictions or recession. Blackjack is the table game that is the most widely played. As people get nervous they make small cuts in their entertainment budget. Blackjack, with it’s high table limits might seem unnecessarily risky. Other table games like craps are usually played by more dedicated gamblers who do not give up the game quite as easily.
By March of 2008, blackjack had already dropped 5.63%, while slots had only dropped 0.63% statewide. Of course, the levelling off of gaming revenue was a dissapointment since huge new casinos like The Palazzo had just opened. In addition residential complexes like Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Palms Place had opened in March of 2008.
Stage 2 (General Crash) [April 2008 – July 2009]: In April of 2008, blackjack got a temporary boost from the release of the movie, “21” about the six MIT students who trained in card counting and took Vegas casinos for millions of dollars. Unlike other gambling based movies which had long term impacts, the boost was small (about 1%) and very shortlived. At this time, the other forms of gaming (slots, baccarat, all other table games) joined blackjack in a steady slide as the depression thickened.
When the Wynn Encore opened in December of 2008 the anticipation of Steve Wynn working his magic in Las Vegas was very high. Unfortunately by the first full quarter the combined Wynn/Encore complex began earning less gaming money than the single hotel the year before.
Stage 3 (Baccarat Boom) [August 2009 – March 2010]: The carnage in all the games continued unabated until May of 2009 when the high end game of baccarat began to turn around. The first three months showed modest gains, but August of 2009 the drop on baccarat was an unexpectedly over a billion dollars for no apparent reason. There was no Chinese holiday that brought in Asian gamblers who wildly prefer the game, and there was not a big fight that month. For the first time since the 1960’s revenue from baccarat for the 12 month period leading up to August exceeded the revenue from blackjack.
Baccarat rapidly became the darling of the Vegas Strip as each month set new records. The boost from this game meant that total casino revenue on the strip bottomed out in October 2009 at 21% from the peak revenue 24 months earlier. The bottom has held for the last 9 months.
With the opening of City Center in the last two weeks of 2009 the baccarat tables at this resort were earning a record million dollars a week for each table. Finally in February of 2010 all previous monthly records were shattered as earnings from baccarat on the strip exceeded $200 million for one month. Never before had a single game nearly exceeded earnings from slot machines. The Chinese New Year’s celebration had brought a multitude of players. In addition to the drop of well over a billion dollars, these players were playing huge numbers of hours per day, and the win percent of over 17% nearly broke all records.
A number of analysts, including this writer, treated the windfall with some reserve. The huge baccarat earnings were obscuring the fact that there was no increase in the broader market. Baccarat players are highly fickle, and most of them are based in Asia. As ever more elaborate casinos open in Asia, there is less and less reason to travel to Vegas. New countries like Singapore and Vietnam will try and avoid the high tax rate of Macao, so there is less reason to fly high rollers to Nevada.
Stage 4 (Flat Revenue on strip/ Falling Revenue in rest of Clark County) [May 2010 – July 2010]: This final stage is unfolding now. As of April 2010, the baccarat revenue on the Vegas strip began falling. In June of 2010, it hit a low of over two decades. In addition to a smaller drop, the win percent was a shockingly low 3.5% (down from 17% in February). The low win percent is only partly dependent on luck, it is much more indicative of players who do not stay at the tables for very long and rebet their winnings over and over again.
Although June is traditionally a very poor month for baccarat, June of 2010 was significantly below this normally bad month. The final determination won’t be made until the Chinese New Year next February, but it does look as if the competition with the Singapore Sands Marina Casino is taking a clear toll.
As of July 2010, strip revenue is only 2.5% above its low in October of 2009. If baccarat revenue continues to fall, the strip may hit a new bottom.
Furthermore, most of the other table games and slots around the country have continued to fall. Only the strip has full size baccarat tables, so that the other areas of Urban Las Vegas and Clark County are struggling with failing revenues. Gaming revenue for all of Clark County is at 2004 levels.
Although the corporate bottom line has been deeply affected, the effect on employment has been disastrous. The casino departments of the Clark County resorts are at the same employment level as 1990 just after the Mirage opened. After the personnel cuts, employment in food, beverage, entertainment, rooms, and general and administrative is only 40,000 more jobs than over 20 years ago. Keep in mind that the population of the county increased by over a million people in this time period.
The carnage in all the games....
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