Back to news Apr 25, 2023
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Are land-based growing out of fashion in 2023?

The world is fast heading into a digitalized way of existence and the necessity of land-based casino houses is put into question. What will happen?
Are land-based growing out of fashion in 2023?

Gambling is not a universally accepted practice, despite its being a widespread one that occurs across income levels, genders, and social classes. With that, local laws, regulation, access, and customs vary. A case in point is Macau, a Chinese territory that trades heavily on its position as a seaport and these days attracts gamblers from all over the globe and its annual gaming revenue has been put at about three times more than that of Las Vegas. Macau's history as a gambling hotspot dates back to almost 200 years ago, as a colony under Portuguese rule, when gambling was legalised by the government to capitalise on the impromptu games of chance that enjoyed significant popularity amongst Chinese migrant workers. The current situation in mainland China, where casino gambling is illegal, could not be more different.

Physical, land-based casinos are found all across the globe, in nations of every income bracket. You are just as likely to find a casino in the capital city of a very low GDP nation as you are in a country the next income step up. Humans are social creatures, seeking out each other's company and living in organised settlements alongside each other - Aristotle's zoon politikon. Although tech has moved fast and brought with it dynamic solutions bypassing traditional infrastructure, reports of the death of in-person have always felt greatly exaggerated. Or, at least they did until the global health emergency came in the shape of the Covid pandemic; widespread lockdown implementation meant keeping our distance both from strangers and loved ones alike. In the absence of physical proximity, many of us turned to the virtual, which in turn has hastened adoption of electronic and digital practices. In many places, cash has gone from reigning king to a deposed has-been, ostensibly as an anti-Covid measure, but given that cash can only be spent in person, the implications and ramifications are significant.

Add to that the precarity and volatility in financial markets, international trade and global relations: war, Covid restrictions, and economic uncertainty is squeezing a gaming industry as susceptible to these factors as any other spheres of business. An additional pressure that weighs upon the industry is the difficulty surrounding licensing. Covid created bureaucratic backlogs which made an already challenging aspect of the sector - obtaining and maintaining the right to operate, based on documented proof of fitness - harder still.

All of the above should conspire to make traditional land-based casinos a less attractive prospect to operators and consumers alike, in favour of the lower overhead, accessible-from-anywhere online gaming space. However, one thing to bear in mind is that online gaming is not without its challenges. Sweeping changes are scheduled for the end of Q2 2023 in Curaçao, where online gambling has been legal since the late nineties. The island nation has long been a huge player in the granting of online gambling licences which allow the holder to operate globally. While it has hitherto been in the hands of private operators, the country's government is set to step in to regulate and administer licensing, with costs and restrictions predicted to increase. This will have knock-on effects in the igaming industry, although a proposed transition period for legacy licence-holders means its full impact might not be felt immediately.

And one way in which land-based casinos may have the edge is in their very physicalness. Data analysts, market trend spotters, and retailers in spheres other than gaming point to a willingness of consumers to value more highly, and therefore spend more on, the experiential. What people seem to want, pretty much regardless of their disposable income, is for spending their money to be worth it.

This pattern is evident across social media, as well. Engagement with platforms like TikTok shows that is what has people across demographics tuning into certain influencers and content again and again - specialness, boutique experiences, and the out-of-the-ordinary. In a casino setting, one's mind might instantly go to the old-school high-roller comping culture that was second nature to many land-based casinos. It's true, providing things 'on the house' and catering to whims, and other practices aimed at shoring up the status of desirable high net worth individuals playing high stakes games, would be a surefire way of ensuring that those patrons experienced that feeling of good value.

However, getting a broader range of people to feel like they're getting good value from a potentially costly experience is a tall order - but not an impossible one. There is absolutely room for the experiential at land-based casinos, even when not dealing with the highest end of the market. Casinos have long been tourist attractions. Establishments which tap into that aspect of their appeal - as a resort offering, partnering with a resort or resorts, or being a tourist attraction in their own right - are likely to continue healthily.

Places that integrate well with a social media presence (never underestimate the draw of being Instagramable!), and show that recreational gambling is part and parcel of a fun, memorable vacation experiences are likely to do well in today's tough financial climate. A new casino cannot afford to be discreet in the way that established ones can be and have been.

After all, patrons who can swim at home still pay to snorkel and scuba, or instead do their laps in an infinity pool. They want to experience something different from their norm, or at least give the familiar something of an upgrade. Similarly, even if these same patrons are used to poker nights with their pals, or are regular e-gambling site users, we would want them to see the added value in attending your casino in person. Your casino's gaming offering is, therefore, a crucial USP. Let your patrons know that - sure, they might have sipped the shaken martini, or even slipped on the tux or glamorous evening gown, but where else might they get the opportunity to try baccarat, in true old-school Bond-style? Land-based casinos benefit from encouraging patrons to make it count, and being in a position to offer something that will help keep The House open, and thriving.

SBC Rio 2024

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