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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Slots are king but tables aren't going away

27 December 2006

The reason for the tremendous growth in the number of slot machines in casinos nationwide is simple: money, money, money. Just take a look at these figures from the Chicago area.

According to statistics in the 1998 annual report compiled by the Illinois Gaming Board, the 8,047 slots in casinos statewide generated adjusted gross revenue of $846 million from a total handle of $15 billion. Just seven years later, the number of machines grew to 9,823 which handled $23 billion and produced 1.5 billion in revenue.

The annual reports from the Indiana Gaming Commission reflect a similar trend. In 1998, the 15,169 slots statewide handled $15 billion and churned out $1 billion in casino win. In the most recent report covering the last half of 2005 and first half of 2006, slots had grown in number to 17,736, handle increased to 25.6 billion and the casino win doubled from seven years earlier to $2 billion.

The biggest area of growth was in low denomination product (penny and nickel games), which has resulted in a decrease in theoretical payout percentage. The figure dipped statewide in Illinois from 94.4 percent in 1998 to 93.5 percent last year. The drop was even more dramatic in Indiana: 93.4 percent to 92 percent.

Casinos are taking in more and paying out less, at least to gamblers as a collective group. State and local government tax bases are a different story.

It's easy to conclude that the increasing popularity of slots has come at the expense of table games, which once upon a time were dominant. Even though in some jurisdictions their numbers have waned, the tables maintain a loyal following which is reflected in the "drop", or out-of-pocket money spent to buy into the games.

In 1998, the 407 table games statewide in Illinois generated a drop of $1.4 billion and adjusted gross revenue of $260 million. Even though seven years later the number of tables plummeted to 233, the drop was not seriously impacted ($1.3 billion) but revenue tumbled to $231 million.

In Illinois, however, each property is restricted by state mandate to 1,200 gaming positions, which means that every time slots are added, tables usually are taken out.

Over in Indiana, where there is no restriction on the number of gaming positions, the number of tables has decreased to 641 from 714 in 1998, but the drop increased from $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion. Gamblers bet more money at fewer tables. Casino win increased from $311 million to $420 million.

Blackjack is by far the most popular table game, followed by craps, roulette and the poker hybrids, principle among them Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud, among others.

There's no doubt table games have a loyal following, but if they are to continue to be a viable component of casino business, property executives must explore ways to make them appealing to the new generation of gamblers.

It was obvious at last month's Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas that new table game research and development centers on gimmicky variations of the mainstays. There's also an emphasis on electronic tables which eliminate the need for live dealers.

But at the same time, casinos cannot neglect the traditional games the way they were meant to be played. Player-friendly rules and affordable wagering minimums are a start.

CASINO NEWS: Horseshoe Casino Hammond is celebrating its latest Caribbean Stud Poker progressive jackpot winner who collected $498,496 after being dealt a royal flush in hearts on November 15. The pot had grown over a period of 17 months since the previous winner took home $260,501 on June 19 last year.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp