Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

In the gaming industry, millennials have been seen as a problem generation. At the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas this September, two panels were devoted to deciphering millennial gamers, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s annual statistics bear out the casinos’ concerns.

Millennials, defined as those age 21-plus and born after 1980 for the LVCVA’s survey, accounted for 27% of visitors to Las Vegas in 2014. However, those visitors were seemingly less enticed by the casinos’ classic charms of rows of chirping slots and green-felted table games. Millennials were least likely to gamble while in Vegas, and those who did spent the least amount of time playing (1.8 hours, as opposed to Generation Xers’ 2.3 hours and boomers’ 3.1 hours) and budgeted the least for gambling ($328.31, in comparison to Gen Xers’ $496.69 and boomers’ $701.09).

How will the gaming industry reach a generation coming of age that is dropping less cash on the casino floor?

In September the Nevada Gaming Commission approved regulation changes that would allow slot machines with skill-based elements and arcade-style features. But casinos aren’t necessarily waiting to see what game developers come up with. On Dec. 19, the Wynn and Encore are rolling out their own effort at appealing to millennials, the Encore Player’s Club, a 5,013-square-foot venue carved out of Encore’s casino floor.

Sean Christie, Wynn Las Vegas' vice president of operations, helped conceptualize the new space and cautions against reading too much into the current gaming stats. Historically, he said, people in the current millennial age range have never driven big gambling numbers.

Sean Christie
Sean Christie Photo Credit: Denise Truscello

“As you get older and get more disposable income, you’re more likely to gamble,” Christie said.

However, millennials have also reached adulthood in the shadow of the Great Recession, watching their parents stress about finances or struggling to find well-paying work themselves. And having lived most of their lives with mobile devices and sophisticated technology at their fingertips, they may be less inclined to sit down for Wheel of Fortune or play a hand of video poker.  

“We’re living in a different day and age,” said Christie. “These people have grown up technologically advanced. I don’t think table games and slot machines necessarily appeal to them.”

Encore Player’s Club will attempt to appeal to them with an open-air, multifaceted space directly in front of Surrender nightclub. The venue will have lounge seating, slot machines, table games, an exclusive cocktail menu, a DJ booth, shuffleboard, Steve Wynn’s own white lacquer pool table, mobile sports betting and 23 HD TVs showing the day’s games and events. Encore Player’s Club will also feature Suzo-Happ InteractivePro tables.

“They are a cocktail table, but they iterate, so they go online, they have TVs,” said Christie. They can offer video gaming, and as skill-based games are approved by regulators, they’ll also be integrated into the tables. “We can try out all sorts of inventory.”

In developing Encore Player’s Club, Christie did research all over the Strip and downtown. He checked out casino party pits — male-centric gaming enclaves with model dealers, blasting music, TVs and barely dressed go-gos. He checked out Lavo Casino Club, where Tao Group is merging nightlife and gambling into a speakeasy-style venue that’s equal parts lounge and gaming parlor. He stopped by the Cosmopolitan’s third-floor pool table and hit downtown’s Gold Spike, which replaced its slot machines with a sort of casual clubhouse stocked with games and comfy seating.

Encore Player’s Club is the distillation of that research, a social space meant to take elements of the lounge, sports book, party pit, casino floor and downtown hangout and fuse them into an area that can appeal to a wide range of gamers and guests, from millennial bachelorettes to their grandparents.

How effective it is in attracting millennial gamers will be measured in the coming months, but as Christie said, “If you don’t change, you get left in the dust.”

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