Traffic in Las Vegas casinos is picking up again, but it’s not just being driven by young travelers with pent-up demand.
Casino operators say customers are returning aged 65 and over, due to the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.
“As more older customers get vaccines and feel more comfortable leaving their homes, it certainly means they’ll get out and go back to their favorite casinos,” said game advisor Josh Swissman of The strategy organization.
“Begins to re-enter”
Bob Bransdon, a 68-year-old Las Vegas local, said he went to casinos with his wife about once a week. Then came the shutdowns.
The two spent months out of the casinos while they were closed and continued to avoid properties out of caution after it reopened in June. They weren’t alone: the pandemic had resulted in a sharp drop in casino visits in the age group over 65, who are more prone to serious illnesses related to COVID-19.
That could turn around. Bransdon, who started visiting casinos again in August, said he had seen an increase in those over 65, especially in the afternoons. He said the numbers are not what they were before the pandemic but there is “no shortage of people there”.
Some casino operators have also noticed the increase. Several executives discussed the trend over the past few weeks during the final round of casino company profit calls.
“We’re starting to see that portion of the database that is 65 years of age and older, if you will, back into the database,” said Blake Sartini, chairman and CEO of Golden Entertainment, on a call on March 11th. “We see this as a great catalyst for the future.”
The heads of other Las Vegas casino operators – including Red Rock Resorts Inc., Boyd Gaming Corp. and Penn National Gaming Inc. – have also found this age group is recovering.
“I think until recently that the 65+ population was quite shy about going back to the facility,” said Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Red Rock Resorts, speaking to investors in February. “With the vaccine further ramped up and rolled out, we are cautiously optimistic that the 65+ year old will slowly return to our facility.”
One of the main driving forces behind the return of this population was the introduction of vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22.4 percent of American adults were fully vaccinated by Friday. Many of these vaccinations were given to older vaccination groups, with 53.5 percent of Americans 65 and over being fully vaccinated.
Jo Ann Woodward, 72, hasn’t received a vaccine yet, but that hasn’t stopped the Phoenix resident from making her regular Las Vegas trips.
Woodward made two solo trips to Las Vegas during the pandemic and plans to return in April. Until then, she’s hoping to get the vaccine – she’s waiting to get a Johnson & Johnson vaccine so she can get a “One and Doed” shot – and she expects more friends will be willing to join her, once they have fired all the guns.
“They think that now that they have the vaccine, they are immune (to the virus) and can go where they want,” she said. “I’ll probably have more people wanting to go with me when I’m vaccinated.”
According to Steve Wieczynski, Stifel analyst, it’s good news for casinos to be more confident about moving outside of the house, coupled with pent-up demand.
“We expect the population (55 and older) to have a lot of catching up to do as vaccinations begin and the country is slowly returning to normal,” he said in a February 25 statement.
The spokesmen for the two six largest casino operators in Las Vegas – Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. – did not respond to requests for comments. Boyd, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Inc. spokespersons declined to comment, and a Red Rock spokesperson cited comments from executives during recent earnings calls.
A lucrative customer
The fact that every age group is returning to Las Vegas is “huge,” said game advisor Debi Nutton, but the 65+ year old can be particularly lucrative.
“Your kids are going to college. You have established yourself in your career, ”she said of the age group. “You have more discretion.”
According to a 2019 report by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, baby boomers have spent more than millennials on nearly every category, including food and drink, transportation, shopping, and sightseeing. They also spent a lot more on gambling, budgeting an average of $ 838.20 per trip compared to the Millennials’ $ 350.47.
“They’re talking about a large part of the customer base (the casinos),” said Clyde Barrow, a gaming industry expert and professor at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. “Certainly for the core (gambling customer), the table games and the slot machines. Maybe not so much for the clubs and concerts, the pool parties and those things. “
These spending habits should continue into 2021. The management of Red Rock Resorts believes that after months of bans and restricted entertainment, senior customers will have ample discretionary spending.
“They seem to be in pretty good shape financially because they just haven’t spent their money. There is a lot of disposable income there, ”said Lorenzo Fertitta, Vice Chairman of Red Rock, during the company’s earnings call. “They are excited to come back.”
That amount could also help solve one of the biggest challenges Las Vegas resorts have faced since the pandemic broke: filling rooms during the week.
Weekly occupancy rates are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon – conventions will likely have to make a full comeback before that can happen – but Amanda Belarmino, assistant professor of hospitality at UNLV, said what When it comes to midweek vacation trips, older customers lead the pack.
Her return is “very important to Las Vegas,” she said. “You are retired. You have this flexibility to travel during the week. “
Convergence of young and old
Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said the state’s resorts are “excited” to welcome more guests back as vaccines come in and people feel more comfortable while traveling.
“These guests 65 and over had earlier access to the vaccine and we would expect their return as they will be more comfortable when they resume and resume their activities,” she said. “Our members value this customer segment and we look forward to having them again.”
Boyd Gaming, whose older core customers are returning, expects the trend to expand in the second and third quarters. This emerged from a March 11 announcement by JP Morgan based on discussions with Boyd CEO Keith Smith and CFO Josh Hirsberg.
The challenge for operators will be figuring out how to attract older players while keeping their newer, younger players interested in returning. It will be easier said than done as other entertainment venues like clubs and shows reopen and vie for the attention of younger viewers.
“Most operators believe that as events, cinemas, and restaurants open, younger customers may be fleeing,” said Chad Beynon, an analyst at Macquarie.
But online offerings could help game companies gain the loyalty of these newer, younger customers even as other entertainment venues open their doors, Beynon said.
“Given the convergence of land and digital – with online and land (betting) – these customers may appreciate that a little more,” he said. “You spend money on online wagering on a sports game, but then you may go ashore on the property that is attached to that asset.”
The review journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, the late CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Contact Bailey Schulz at [email protected] Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.