Everything from branding to buffets was on the table at Hard Rock Atlantic City when casino industry bigwigs met at the East Coast Gaming Conference last month.
Panelists discussed the possible future of Iowa online casino gaming and casino changes resulting from the pandemic.
Iowa online casinos could be coming
Online casino gaming and its great potential in more states, including Iowa, became one of the conference’s main topics. Internet gambling has progressed much slower than sports betting, which seems to be sweeping the country since the 2018 US Supreme Court ruling.
New Jersey’s top gambling regulator, David Reubeck, says online casino gaming is still “in its infancy.” Currently, gamblers have access to online casino gambling in six states.
One of them, New Jersey, has taken in $4.79 billion since 2013. The other five have done well, also:
- Pennsylvania: $2 billion since 2019
- Michigan: $2 billion since 2021
- Connecticut: $199.7 million since October 2021
- West Virginia: $137.4 million since July 2020
- Delaware: $42.2 million since 2013
As mentioned, panelists predicted that Iowa online casino gaming could come to fruition, along with New York, Illinois and Indiana.
It’s the existence of sports betting in those states that could speed things up. The infrastructure and regulatory framework are already in place for sports wagering in 31 states.
And that could accelerate the process in more casinos, agreed Richard Schwartz, CEO of Rush Street Interactive.
Retail casinos shouldn’t worry
Howard Glaser, legislative counsel at Light & Wonder (formerly Scientific Games), mentioned some state legislators’ ongoing concerns that may delay online gambling. Those concerns center around the possibility of online casino gaming enticing customer revenue away from brick-and-mortar casinos.
So far, evidence has proved the contrary.
And that was not the experience of Luisa Woods, the vice president of Delaware North, either. Before joining the gambling, hospitality and sports company that owns multiple casinos, Woods headed digital operations at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City.
She said her first task was to convince casinos that she didn’t want to compete with them; instead, she could help them grow. She and her team accomplished that by integrating the brand and creating loyalty accounts for remote customers.
Then, when those remote customers made their initial in-person casino visits, they would already have a host assigned to them.
Pandemic-induced casino changes
According to conference panelists, some casino changes brought about by the pandemic and its lockdown may prove permanent — or at least long-term. “There were a lot of lessons learned” during the pandemic, said David Cordish of the Cordish Companies.
One pandemic casualty? Buffets. In May 2020, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commissioner Brian Ohorilko expected that casino buffets might switch to cafeteria-style serving.
Instead, according to Cordish, doing away with buffets was part of “tightening the ship” at the Cordish-run casinos in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Hard Rock has eliminated buffets at some properties, too.
Some properties cut back on marketing and advertising during the lockdown.
Jeff Gural, the owner of two upstate New York racetracks, opened his eyes regarding unsatisfactory returns on TV and streaming ads, billboards and big giveaways. So now they take up less of his budget.
Another consequence is less staff and smaller payrolls. Being closed for months was “horrendous” for staffing, Cordish said. And like many industries, casinos are now experiencing problems hiring new staff.
In another change, these four tribal casinos in Iowa went smoke-free during the pandemic:
- Prairie Flower
- Meskwaki Bingo Casino
- Blackbird Bend
WinneVegas has dropped the no-smoking policy, whereas Prairie Flower has continued it since guests “overwhelmingly” requested it. The casino does provide an outdoor smoking area. Prairie Flower has also retained enhanced sanitation on high-touch surfaces and an advanced air filtration system.