Does Gaming have an Older Audience or an Aging Audience? By Jeffrey Compton March 20, 2014 at 9:02 pm Last week I ended my column on senior gaming with “I do admit to being concerned that nearly half the casino visitors in 2012 are over age 50. I’m not concerned for the visitors, but for the casinos and the industry as a whole. That concern is not over compulsive gambling, but about the aging audience – but that is a subject for another column or more.” At the time I did not intend to immediately follow with a column on this topic. However, I’ve received several notes from casino managers along the lines of “Jeff, I don’t think you need to be concerned about the aging audience anytime soon. Baby Boomers are just starting to retire and there are lots of them. Twenty years down the road the industry may need to be concerned.” So I’ve decided that today is the day to discuss the question: “Is the American casino customer base an older audience or an aging audience?” Is there an important difference between an older audience and an aging audience? You bet! An older audience is a manageable reality, but having an aging customer base is a concern – and an immediate concern. Why immediate? Because when the problem becomes serious (as in “What happened to all our players?”), it is unfixable. As Michael Pappas, my money manager, says, “Sound budgeting can prevent a cash crisis but no budgeting plan can solve a cash crisis. It’s too late. An infusion of cash (i.e. sell something) or bankruptcy are usually the only answers.” Until recently I was never particularly concerned with this issue. Like many in the business I assumed that an interest in gambling and particularly slot machines was totally based on age. Just as cutting-edge rock music tends to be more of interest to folks under 35 (that is when I stopped following the top 40), casino gaming appeals to people over 35. In 1990 there were 115 million people over the age of 35 in the United States. Today there are 142 million, so this not something that shows up on a balance sheet (yet). Two on-going discussions helped change my attitude, one with Geoff Freeman (when you trade a 75-year old AGA President for a 39-year-old AGA President you should count on a different outlook), the other with our entertainment contributor Christopher Axelrod, one of those rare 55+ year-olds who has stayed in touch with what 25 years-olds are thinking. Both believe that while casino player age demographics are not a number one industry issue, how we market to the Millennials [folks under 30 – I had to look it up too] should be of concern. As Axelrod recently told me, “The Millennials are the first generation to have unrestricted access to anything via many forms of technology, and due to a severe economy (as well as student loans) this generation does not have the disposable income or earnings potential of prior generations. They do not want to play their parents games or endorse their brands.” Part of how I think about the “older versus aging” question is also based on my experience in the arts. While theatre in America (especially Broadway and professional regional theatre) has a steady, and in many places, growing audience, classical music orchestras are in serious trouble. Many reasons have been given for this (particularly the decline in arts education in public schools), but I think the reason is simple: The product. Theatre consistently brings out new product (plays and musicals) every year while still keeping its older repertoire fresh with new staging and new interpretations. But almost everything performed by an orchestra (except at a pops concert) was written over one hundred years ago. Jazz, another arts field on the decline, also suffers from an aging repertoire and aging listeners, while the dance arts have grown considerably, especially for smaller companies aiming at younger audiences. If you need another example for concern, talk to your friends who are involved in horse or dog racing (not the casino end of racinos; I mean the actual racing). Their audience has moved on (or, if you will, moved off). In putting this column together I spoke with Joel McCullar, a retired jockey and racing official, who said “We saw the same folks over and over for decades – but not their children or grandchildren. We never had a discussion of about it until it was twenty years too late!” Unfortunately there are few national statistics available on the average age of gaming players, but even if there were, this is research that should be done on the local level. No two casinos are identical, nor is the age (or aging) of their player base, plus the overall aging of the U.S. population affects some regions much more than others. But with all the information casinos already collect on their players, generating an average age of player (broken down by level of play) should not be all that hard. And this data should be collected and shared, nationally (a perfect job for the AGA). But if we know we have a problem, what do we do about it? Perhaps expanded social media on slot machines (so my friends at other machines or even at home can share the experience with me). Perhaps expanded Internet gaming options (which are currently being thwarted by an 80-year old gentleman who I would guess is not that familiar with the term “Millennials”). I don’t know exactly what should be done. But we are an industry known for innovation and overcoming obstacles. Once we admit there’s a problem, we will be able to fix it.