Older gamblers avoid Atlantic City casinos amid covid-19 pandemic

July 31, 2020
The covid-19 pandemic has amplified the shift to younger visitors and non-gamblers in Atlantic City since gambling parlors re-opened in July.
The covid-19 pandemic has amplified the shift to younger visitors and non-gamblers in Atlantic City since gambling parlors re-opened in July | © Martin Allinger – Dreamstime.com

By a Biometrica staffer

Before the covid-19 pandemic, Atlantic City’s casinos were working toward expanding their appeal among younger visitors and non-gamblers, in a bid to branch out from their image of mostly being a gray-haired slot player’s haven. While they did succeed in bringing a younger crowd, the pandemic has amplified that shift since gambling parlors re-opened in July, after being closed for over 15 weeks to mitigate the spread of the virus, according to an article by The Press of Atlantic City.

The presence of younger gamblers and the number of families staying at the hotels has increased at most of the city’s casinos since the industry was permitted to reopen on July 2, several executives and employees said, even as many older players continue to stay away.

Frequent customers and core gamblers could be staying away because of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed on casinos as a result, the article said quoting Steve Callender, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Inc., which operates four of the city’s nine casinos.

“It appears that more of our more mature guests are not coming back yet or, at least, as frequently as they used to. I think this is due to less amenities than they expect from their experience at our facilities,” Callender said in the article. “I’m sure some are just waiting until there is a vaccine so they feel more comfortable, but, mostly, they don’t want to stand in line on the Boardwalk waiting to eat.”

Indoor dining, drinking and smoking on the casino floor are all prohibited, while other offerings like spa services or live entertainment are either extremely limited or not available at all.

“We are seeing that the older the customer is, the less frequent we are seeing that customer compared to last year,” Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City said in the article, noting that trend is similar at other casinos across the Hard Rock brand.

Player’s cards give the casino a clear picture of who is, and who isn’t, coming to the property, Lupo added. “I think it’s very expected that the older customer segment is a little bit more leery of going out in public with the risk of COVID, and the numbers specifically show that.”

Meanwhile the number of younger visitors to Atlantic City is growing, and the increase is evident in metrics the casinos can gauge, such as hotel bookings and loyalty card signups, said Ron Baumann, senior vice president and general manager for Caesars Entertainment. Baumann said that in the first two weeks of July, nearly 6,000 new CAESARS Rewards cards were activated, with a good portion of those signups being done by people between the ages of 29 and 39.

Another factor that is likely contributing to the uptick in younger and first-time visitors to Atlantic City is the affordability of casino hotel rooms. When combined with travel restrictions and canceled out-of-state summer vacations, Baumann said local families are staying at casino hotels more often than in years past.

The reduction of older gamblers and visitors coming to Atlantic City was anticipated by the casino industry since that population is, according to health officials, more at-risk to contract covid-19.

“There’s a fear factor,” the article said quoting Bob Ambrose, a gaming industry consultant, writer and adjunct professor of casino management and hospitality. “I think it’s going to take a while for the more mature visitor to feel comfortable enough to come back.”

Ambrose said he understood why some senior gamblers may shy away from coming to a casino but added that the industry’s precautions and safety protocols are “much better” than at supermarkets or retail stores.

Not every casino is trending younger, though. Without HQ2 Beachclub or a nightclub, and sports betting only recently ramping back up, Mike Donovan, chief marketing officer and senior vice president at Ocean Casino Resort, said the things that typically attracted a younger demographic to the property are missing.

“I think (the crowd) is probably a little bit older, just for us, because we don’t have those things and that was such a big piece of business last year. That nightlife, sports betting and entertainment would bring … 10,000 people on your property in one day that are all primarily under 40,” he added.

But with a clientele perhaps more focused on gambling this summer, Ocean is poised to report a good month in terms of gaming revenue. “July has been a great month for us at the property,” Donovan said. “Our gaming revenues — they’ll come out on the 12th (of August) — but we’re going to be up, likely, 20% to 25% over where we were last year.”