The idea to develop a casino is often driven by circumstances such as having sub-optimized space in the foyer of a hotel, the need to fill a gap in hotel occupancy or the availability of a license as part of a tourism investment scheme. All too often the idea develops a life of its own and jdb the next steps are the creation of a casino design (that neatly fits the development team’s perception of what players want) and the start of construction, followed by the search for casino management. The problem is that there are common misconceptions about casinos and gamblers that lead developers into pitfalls time-and-time again! More about that later but let’s look at how the most successful operators go about things…They start with an understanding of the market, its willingness, size, disposable income, access, competition (for all entertainment), market-specific needs and compatibility of the player profiles with other users of the hotel, resort or entertainment complex. This understanding then forms the basis for the remainder of the feasibility study which estimates the number of potential visitors and their frequency of visit, the length of the average gaming session and the average stake. Extrapolating further, projections about the capacity requirements in terms of equipment, floor area and operating times are formulated. Finally, financial spreadsheets are crafted to present a supported and considered opinion on profit, capital expenditure and returns on investment. But more than just the numbers, the feasibility focuses thinking on how to optimize the opportunity, on flushing out potential fatal flaws and on what will be required to compete effectively in the market. The feasibility does not need to be a lengthy and expensive exercise conducted by a celebrated academic. What’s sufficient in the early stages is to understand whether you have a rough diamond or a worthless glass chip. A professional casino consultant will be able to deliver an initial feasibility for a reasonable price in as little as 10-working days, providing not only a decision point on the idea or opportunity at hand but also delivering a framework for screening future opportunities. Let’s look at some of the pitfalls…
The “license to print money” myth is a surprisingly popular assumption about casinos and one that seems to prevent people from conducting all the usual due diligence and care that would go into say, a shop or restaurant opportunity screening exercise. Examples that come to mind follow. A large casino was developed in a jurisdiction where there are restrictions placed on slot machine maximum stakes. The revenue expectations of the slot machines were heavily relied upon to render the casino viable. When a revenue capacity model was run on the slots by an experienced manager several days before opening, it showed that it was a physical impossibility to generate the required slots income with the number of machines installed… Naturally the casino failed to live up to expectations. A large casino developed in Britain by a US operator failed miserably because it did not understand the propensity for live gaming or the mobility of players in the market, whilst a British company failed spectacularly in Las Vegas because it didn’t understand the customer and made fatal design flaws.
The “James Bond” image is another popular misconception about players and casinos. The Pareto Principle applies heavily to casinos with approximately 80% (or more) of the revenue being produced by 20% (or less) of the visitors. That 20% does not constitute people who don formal dress for an occasional night out; it’s more typified by the frequent visitor who feels at home in the casino in comfortable, casual wear. The un-initiated 5-Star Hotel manager is invariably aghast at the presence in his or her lobby of the “non-James Bond-ness” shall we say, of the casino players! “Where’s that casino manager, he’s obviously got this all wrong…” And on goes the conflict-of-interests. The feasibility study will enable the corporation to identify these conflicting situations in time to create solutions such as providing a separate casino entrance and differentiating F&B standards and prices in the hotel and casino.
I recall an incident where a group of executives went to great lengths to propose the development of a large caravan park in the grounds of a destination casino resort, some 2 hours drive from a major city. The resort had the only casino within 4 hours driving-time of the city. The executives proudly began to present their highly polished and detailed plan to greatly increase footfall to the resort when much to their dismay they were harshly reprimanded by the CEO. They had failed to recognize that the hundreds of caravans on the road would delay the 20% of visitor that produce 80% of the revenue and the significance of such shortening of the gaming session!