Episodes Random Travel

The Las Vegas Migration

According to the most recent Nevada Gaming Statistics Report released by the UNLV Center for Gaming Research (link provided in the show notes), the Strip gambling win total is down 1.37% for the year. This includes a good showing in May, thanks to the big fight weekend. No, I’m talking about when my wife yelled at me for forgetting our anniversary. It was a boxing match. Slot wins for the Strip are up compared to this time last year, but the table game win total is down quite a bit. Compare this with the Downtown numbers for the same period. Both slot and table game win totals are up, table games win totals Downtown are up by 9% YOY.

Is this evidence enough to claim that people are migrating downtown, taking their play where they feel more valued? Maybe. While this short timeline may indicate this, gaming revenues can be quite volatile. And, as the UNLV Center for Gaming mentioned in their report, the Strip has increased variance in part to the volatile baccarat hold and high rollers. But let’s explore this a little bit.

It’s important to acknowledge that this has been a long time coming. $5 tables have been a staple for quite a while now. Heck, even inflation probably should have taken care of them by now. It makes sense that casinos would want to phase them out for the exponentially more lucrative $10 jump. As I’ve explained before, a $10 BJ player is actually worth slightly more than two $5 players due to the amount of hands per hour that can be played. But no, they’ve actually persisted. Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky that they are still available. This point was brought up by a Lucky individual I probably should have blocked a long time ago. And, despite my incessant complaining, $5 tables can still be found on the Strip. Albeit, they’re not around at peak times, but they are there.

Increased limits, however, are not the only way low rollers are feeling the pinch. We’ve seen limit increases consistently over the years. Now though, changing odds and table rules make the games even less of a value. The change of many BJ tables to 6:5 for those under the $25 threshold and the obliteration of low denomination VP paytables have made things even worse for us penurious low rollers. Even craps is taking a hit. Steven Wynn  announced that their lower denomination craps tables would be limited to 2X odds and he’s hoping privately/publicly that other casinos will follow suit. So, what are we to do? From conversations I’ve had, we take our play elsewhere. We head downtown. And, I’ll agree with some, at times, you get what you pay for.

As I’ve often discussed, there are still plenty of inexpensive gaming options in the Fremont district. But you do have to wade through the crap. Sometimes literally. You know you run into some shady characters when ordinances have to be placed. I don’t mind if you wear the Borat thong in your private residence, God knows I have 4 or 5 pairs myself, but I only get a few vacations a year, and I don’t get all jazzed up thinking about strolling through a walkway with the highest man-ass showing per capita in the world. Don’t even get me started on the advanced aged nurse with nipple clamps. Once you get into the casino it’s not that bad, but it is far from the comforts of the Strip resorts.

Then again, it can be a lot of fun. There’s a certain, party-like atmosphere Fremont offers. The best time I’ve had gambling in a long time was at Golden Gate recently. I find the dealers downtown in general more lively and engaging. I would say the same for the fellow players. Most downtown properties know what they are, and know what they’re not. This allows for a certain charm to the discounted experiences. You’re not going to get the best drinks. The entertainment isn’t world class, but if you want to gamble and drink on the cheap, there’s no better place. Tim Dressen, in the Outisders’ Guide put it really well when speaking of Downtown, “This is Las Vegas- a little gritty, a little loud, and a lot of fun”.

Maybe I’ve just succumbed to the fact that in order to have a good time gambling, I have to embrace downtown. Perhaps it’s my hand is being financially forced. If you asked me where I’d rather play, I’d tell you it’s the Strip. Can we just stop and appreciate how insane the Strip is. Of the top 20 largest hotels in the world, the Las Vegas Strip has 12 of them! That’s nuts. There’s no other place like it. Incredible lounges and cocktail bars, megastars performing nightly, and some of the most luxurious and opulent resorts many of us will ever see. This all comes at a premium though. From what some of you told me, you don’t mind paying for that premium. I’m with you to an extent. If you’re a green chipper, not much has changed for you.

Some of these changes may make a lot of sense from a business standpoint. Why keep multiple, low minimum tables around, taking up space, when you can replace them with higher margin units. Perhaps slot machines or even a bar or restaurant. After all, the Strip really is concerned with high rollers. This changing atmosphere is likely not out of ignorance, although I would not say that for all casino executive decisions.

Truthfully, if I had my choice and, I often do. I’d rather stay on the Strip and simply head downtown to gamble. It’s not the easiest to pull off without access to a rental car, but it’s not bad. I don’t have to gamble every day of my trip to have a good time. Jumping to a $10 doesn’t make sense for me. Not because my bankroll can’t handle it, but because the utility isn’t there. Simply put, a $10 game isn’t twice as fun for me as a $5 game, so I tend not to play them. Occasionally, I will if I succumb to peer or liquid pressure, but that’s rare. So, gaming wise, Downtown it is for me. On those “non-gambling days”, if I really feel the urge to play a little, I can still hunt down a cheap table or find an acceptable VP machine with a little effort. But I hate effort. I don’t think the Strip cares too much, though.

What Strip operators need to determine is whether their decision to adjust odds and pay tables is a pure reaction to the poor gaming numbers. Or, conversely, is their decision to adjust odds and pay tables the cause of the poor gaming numbers.

About the author


Host of the Vegas Fanboy podcast. A reluctant Millennial. An amateur human.