Up until 1905 there wasn’t much of note in the Nevada desert, other than heat, cacti and the occasional tumbleweed. Now, there is a thriving city with over half a million inhabitants that attracts 30 million foreign tourists a year – Las Vegas.
The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam attract visitors from across the globe, but the main drawing point for tourists is the famous Las Vegas Strip, home to some of the most famous casinos in the world.
Here we take a quick look at the history of casinos and gambling in Las Vegas, analyse what challenges they must overcome in the present, and suggest what lies ahead for Sin City.
Beginnings and entertainment resort expansion
What would go on to become modern-day Las Vegas was first founded by Rafael Rivera, who was scouting the area as part of a Mexican expedition to discover new trade routes. He nicknamed the area ‘the meadows’ – a reference to the spring watered grasses found there.
The city was formally founded in 1905, but 1931 was the true birth of Las Vegas. That year, the state of Nevada legalized casino gambling. At the same time Las Vegas saw huge amounts of construction workers brought in to construct the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.
Those who stuck around after were used to help construct some of the first lavish hotels and casinos in downtown Las Vegas. The 1960s saw even more investment in Las Vegas from big companies and casinos – and the strip as we know it now was born. Vegas was booming – and it became synonymous with entertainment and musical acts.
Elvis and Tom Jones were regulars on the Las Vegas Strip and the city was even host to the first showing of Moulin Rouge in the USA.
The decline and the Millennial conundrum
The past three decades could have been considered the golden age for Las Vegas, but there are signs that the popularity of Sin City may be on the wane. In the last year visitor figures have fallen by 725,000 and weekend occupancy is also on the decline.
All of this has happened during a period of growth in US economy growing. US median household income is increasing as well, which begs the question: where are today’s gamblers now taking their cash?
One of the biggest factors in the falling number of visitors is the perception of Vegas by many younger visitors, who are the future of the casino business.
According to the American Marketing Association, Millennials see casinos as a hive of “grandma activity” and not somewhere which offers an exciting active experience. However, this perceived lack of interest isn’t the only reason visitors are staying away.
Can online offer more than the real thing?
A further issue Vegas must tackle is the fact that the games they offer in-house can be replicated online. What’s more, these online games are more immersive than ever – with engaging graphics and high-quality audio making them an attractive alternative to gamers everywhere. Slot machines are one of the most popular and games in any land-based Vegas casino and they represent the biggest revenues for those establishments.
Faced with this challenge, many Vegas casino operators might be putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and asking themselves: If I’m an avid slot machine player, why would I travel all the way to Las Vegas to play a slot machine when I can play slots at home? And how will this affect our future revenue?
With online slots becoming increasingly prevalent, punters can play a huge variety of slot games – sometimes higher quality than those in land-based casinos – from their laptop or mobile device. Online slot games present gamers with ultimate convenience, as they can play a range of games from the comfort of their own homes, or if they’re on the move – at any time of day.
For example, Bonanza Slots is a hugely popular slot game that offers a gaming experience that matches – and some would say even improves upon – the land-based casino competition. It’s a gold mine-themed blockbuster game that’s really made an impact on the online gambling industry – not least because there are so many ways to win a huge jackpot. The graphics and user friendliness of the Bonanza game can rival any ‘one armed bandit’ you can find in a physical casino – and you don’t need to travel anywhere to have the privilege of playing. Find out more about this UK online slots game – chances are you’ll be tempted to play a couple of games yourself.
How land-based casinos are resisting change
The explosion in popularity of online casinos has become a concern for many casino operators in Las Vegas. Sheldon Adelson is one of the biggest opponents to online gambling in the US and there’s no wonder why. The 84-year-old is the CEO of the largest casino gaming company in Sin City, Las Vegas Sands.
Adelson knows that one of the biggest obstacles facing Las Vegas casinos is how they attract young Millennials to their venues. With the allure – and convenience – of online gambling, there no longer seems to be the need for gambling enthusiasts to get a plane to enjoy their first taste of having a bet at a casino.
Las Vegas’ response to the online gambling juggernaut hasn’t thus far involved adapting to the times and updating their game offerings. Instead, a group – led by Adelson – is lobbying against the legalisation of online casinos in the US.
Adelson and the group have remained tenacious in their efforts to prevent the spread of online gaming across America’s individual states – and time will tell whether the President will continue to resist temptation to embrace the industry for all the prosperity it could bring.
Adelson is one of Donald Trump’s biggest donors, which may explain why the President has so far not made any progress towards legalising online gambling across the US – despite the huge financial rewards it could deliver the country.
What’s next for Las Vegas?
The next few years will tell us whether time’s up for Vegas. If Sin City wants to continue attracting new visitors and more importantly, Millennials, it needs to start by dramatically altering its image.
To the younger generation, Las Vegas is a city that represents yesteryear, it represents their parents and Grandparents misspent youth and acts such as Elvis and Tom Jones. Las Vegas needs to dramatically alter its image to appeal to a younger, more digitally-savvy audience.
New musical acts need to be attracted to the city to appeal to Millennials and traditional booking processes need to be ditched. Further to that casinos need to be remodelled and redesigned for younger audiences.
Tacky casinos with gaudy decorations aren’t going to attract the new generation of gamblers, instead they need comfortable, modern surroundings, with interactive gaming and access to wi-fi. Las Vegas finds itself at a real cross roads right now and if it fails to adapt, in 50 years it will be nothing more than a nostalgic memory.