Las Vegas & Atlantic City: What US online gambling regulation means for two heavyweight resorts
It was 1984. The brand new Theatre Ballroom inside the Golden Nugget hotel and casino resort had just had its roof raised; a performance of box office proportions and a finale that could have been any more symbolically appropriate.
The last resounding notes of “My Way” still waltzed through the ether, with the same oratorical grace as their vocal architect. A partnership which could not be any more harmonious than that of the lyrics’ creator and the resort’s adopted nickname.
Not even the casino gods could perhaps have given odds on such a thriving relationship between Frank Sinatra and ‘Sin City’; it turned out to be a match made in heaven.
Las Vegas; a shortcut to, or the ending of the grand American Dream, while for others, an opportunity to take in performances of the magnitude of Sinatra.
In the decades since, the resort has become arguably one of the most visited gambling hotspots in the world, its renowned ‘strip’ playing home to many famous hotels and casinos.
With revenues of more than $6.58 billion in 2019 - the Nevada resort clearly played an important role in the gambling industry.
Just over 4000km east, another less prestigious, though nevertheless popular resort; Atlantic City staggeringly produced $3.3 billion in the same year - its iconic boardwalk paving the way for an interesting turn of events.
The 12 months and beyond that followed - not even bookmakers would have given odds for - was a period that led to a domino-like effect of states approving online gambling legislation as a method of increasing their revenue.
Since 2020, over 10 states have passed bills to allow at least one form of online gambling (sports betting, casino or both) and as a result there has been a surge in popularity, many states breaking their own monthly record in terms of revenue.
Collectively, even a small handful of these states out-performed Las Vegas’ 2019 revenue. While the likes of New Jersey and Pennsylvania allowed online gamblers for a couple of years previously, new entrants to the industry such as Michigan continue to post impressive numbers.
While prior to 2020 many states would not have even considered legalising online gambling, they have found themselves reconsidering, having such a large source of potential revenue at their fingertips that they simply could not ignore.
The residents of such states including West Virginia, Rhode Island, Illinois, Connecticut and more all found themselves able to sign up to an online gambling site, while arguably the biggest surprise came in late 2020 when the staunchly democratic state of New York passed a mobile sports betting bill, granting an initial 10 online operators permission.
In 2022 more will follow, while existing states that passed bills over the last two years will continue to break records. Already, we are seeing patterns emerge, making it easy to predict future forecasts of certain states, based on preferences such as sports betting events like the NFL season.
With online gambling legislation likely to become more widespread across the US, it begs the question - what are the implications for the likes of Las Vegas and Atlantic City?
A change in strategy
Gambling has been synonymous with Las Vegas for decades - originally having roots with the Mafia, and since the nineties has been one of the most popular vacation spots in the world, especially among US tourists.
In 2020, Las Vegas attracted 19 million visitors, a significant drop compared to 2019 when in excess of 42 million frequented the strip, indicating that a rise in the widespread availability of online gambling is perhaps one of the reasons why dedicated gamblers have preferred to stay in their native states.
However, a number of casinos that are based in Las Vegas have seemingly already begun preparing for this change. Both MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment have launched online assets which are beginning to compete with major online operators.
Both of these have notable resorts on the Las Vegas strip, though with the emergence of BetMGM which is competing well in a number of states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania in addition to Caesars’ acquisition of UK sportsbook William Hill, it appears that contingency plans are well underway.
This has no doubt been a smart gamble for both companies, having seen the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel (US online operators) increase their market share substantially over the last two years.
While there is no doubt that the online gambling industry in the US will overtake land-based casinos and arguably, resorts such as Las Vegas in terms of casino revenue, it is likely that we could see the hotspot diversify slightly to focus on another area that it has become renowned for over the last decade.
Many visitors to the strip would frequent for the experience; not solely gambling but also for the entertainment factor. One area that Las Vegas has always excelled in has been grandiose leisure, focusing on ‘big and brilliant’, making it an ultimate tourist magnet.
Some of the finest entertainers in the world have been contracted to the numerous resorts on the strip over the years, from top-performing artists and circus entertainers to create a medley of ultimate showmanship in one of the most majestic backdrops in the world.
Everything about ‘Vegas’ screams magnificence on the largest scale. Keen to outdo other resorts around the world, it has become arguably the entertainment venue on the planet.
Changing its marketing strategy to focus more on this in the future could become a realistic possibility. While no doubt, there are many residents in the US that will still prefer the traditional casino experience in a setting that eclipses many others, gambling as we know it may take a back seat.
It will be interesting to see whether Atlantic City will do the same. For a number of years many resorts in Atlantic City have fallen some way behind in terms of the quality of the facilities, which has led to regeneration initiatives in a bid to help attract more visitors over the next couple of years. Indeed the site of the former Trump Plaza has received a grant of $50,000 in a bid to help start the process of regeneration in the resort, while a number of other hotels and casinos have already begun the process.
The idea is to make it more of a year-round attraction and while online gambling will undoubtedly be the main source of revenue, boardwalk resorts such as Golden Nugget already have successful online undertakings.
It also comes down to brand identity. A number of companies, especially in Atlantic City, will no doubt be keen to make sure that visitors know that their land-based asset is just as important as their online presence and as a result it comes down to perception.
Redevelopment of such real estate will not only help to add value to the area on a larger scale, but essentially ensure that it does not lose its place in a customers’ consciousness.
At the end of the day, this is their turn to say in two years time (30 years after Sinatra blazed a trail in Las Vegas) when this niche of the industry was under threat, for them to respond, “I did it my way”.