Saving Las Vegas: Can esports be the hero casinos need?

As casinos look to counteract an aging demographic of customers and players, one industry many operators are looking to is esports.

This is understandable given the typical demographic of esports fans, which in particular titles’ scenes at least, is notably older than many outsiders would (and regularly do) presume. They aren’t all kids. A recent story on Fox Business opened with the line ‘casinos are slowly embracing competitive video game tournaments as a way to help their bottom lines’, and went onto explain that the money was coming from hotel rooms, food and drink. This of course is not necessarily a bad thing; casinos are evermore entertainment venues first and foremost as opposed to gambling halls.

Regardless, declining revenues and player volumes on slot machines in Las Vegas and elsewhere have set the alarms off at management level of many casinos and a number of these are looking for ways to future proof their casino floors. One such option is skilled gaming machines, such as the VGMs produced by GameCo.

At the upcoming Betting on Esports Conference in London (Kensington Olympia, September 13-15) the CEOs of Millennial Esports (Alex Igelman) and GameCo (Blaine Graboyes) will speak on a panel alongside Downtown Grand Chairman Seth Schorr on the topic of ‘Saving Las Vegas – how esports and land based casinos can work together’. Melissa Blau, iGaming Capital Director, will moderate.

GameCo has agreed partnerships with the likes of Bandai Namco for branded titles, and has plenty more in the pipeline. Its VGMs are already in Atlantic City, Foxwoods in Connecticut, Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina, in Chile and in other Caribbean locations. The firm is looking at opportunities globally, and is in discussions with operators to enter the Macau market. European casinos too would be foolish not to consider this opportunity now.

Naturally it will take time for players to adapt to such games, for the games themselves to be ‘perfected’ and moreover for word to spread and for them to be across enough casinos that you can reliably head into one and expect a top of the range skilled gambling machine. Change it seems though, is coming. It seems unlikely that the current generation of 20 and 30 somethings who grew up playing video games are ever going to be entertained by slots.

Seth Schorr, Downtown Grand

Over at Millennial Esports, whilst the group is expanding with various acquisitions across the esports space (such as analytics firm Stream Hatchet, IDEAS+Cars and more), it has its flagship venue at the Neonopolis in downtown Vegas. The key purpose of this is to host esports tournaments and it’s something it’s been doing since the ribbon was cut with the Mayor of Vegas in attendance. It’s venue space, and at a wider level the city’s infrastructure that comes with being a premier and experienced tourist hub, that right now offers casinos a prime opportunity to cut their teeth in esports.

This is something Seth Schorr, Chairman at the Downtown Grand knows only too well. He told Esports Insider: “For nearly two years the Downtown Grand has been consistently running weekly esports tournaments. Throughout this process we have learned a great deal about the esports enthusiast and the nuances between the fans and players of each game genre. We have learned how to effectively program and promote our tournaments and have created a business model that has been positive to the bottom line of our organisation.”

In the past six months we’ve also seen The Luxor (part of MGM International Group) commit to renovating a 30,000 sq foot nightclub space in its Strip based casino. From 2018 this will be “an esports mecca” in the words of The Luxor’s General Manager Nik Rytterstrom.

We’ve also seen Caesars unveil a Vegas based production studio in association with Sidekick Productions which will involve esports to some degree. Casinos have the capacity to put on small to medium scale high level tournaments to attract an audience, and moreover smaller still tournaments to get people in and playing themselves. Whilst gambling on esports tournaments is not yet really an option right now (only limited options to do so have been granted), the path has been cleared for Senate Bill 420 which would legalise esports gambling statewide.

Millennial Esports’ Igelman said of the bill: “The State’s approach to esports betting is cautious yet pioneering. In the foreseeable future a bet on a Rocket League or DOTA match will be as common as a bet on an NFL or NBA game.”

The potential for this Bill is considerable. Casino floor designs could be altered, with a focus on fans of esports; a viewing zone showing live coverage of any ESL One or DreamHack tournament with a bar and food. The option to play some skilled gambling machines nearby, or take part in a small SFV tournament with friends old and new. There could also outlets to buy merchandise and apparel, there could be team meet and greets, and on key occasions tournaments with some of the bigger teams around.

You only need look at the yearly pilgrimage to Seattle for The International or to Katowice for the Intel Extreme Masters to gauge the potential of becoming a place known and loved by some of these communities of fans. Esports alone are unlikely to save casinos’ bacon, but they could play a significant role in modernising them for a new audience if the operators do their homework and play it smart.

You can learn all about the casino and esports opportunity, and have the chance to ask those in the know all the questions you can dream up at Betting on Esports 2017 (London, September 13-15).

BoECon is a part of the wider #boscon2017 (same dates) featuring over 55 exhibitors, 160 speakers and 1,000 attendees. Tickets include full access to both shows, food and networking parties each evening.