× Gambling News In-Depth iGaming Calendar Connections GI Friday Trafficology GI Magazine
GGA 2019 AffiliateCon
IN-DEPTH 16 August 2018
Real estate: the hidden market in casino gaming
Managing Director of the Alea Consulting Group, Nicholas G. Colon delves deeper into this relatively new way of ensuring the long-term financial viability of land-based casinos
By Nicholas G. Colon

The casino gaming industry is one of the most dynamic sectors of business to work in. Gaming executives are engaged in a never-ending quest to find the magic formula that boosts their corporate earnings to the next level. Sometimes the speculations are glorious successes, while other times they’re horrific failures. And still other times, massive investments have to be made before the true extent of how bad an idea is can be revealed.

The newest approach that gaming companies are trying is using the real estate market to increase their revenues. Here I will give a brief overview on how the real estate revenue generation by casino gaming companies works and, the benefits and drawbacks associated with this method. Modern casinos are built as massive resorts often times covering scores of acreage of land. The property usage is divided into three major components, which are gaming, hotel and commercial uses.

The hotel part houses the guests, while gaming is reserved to games of chance; and then there is the commercial use of properties. While hotel and gaming uses are niche, the commercial uses of casino properties have almost limitless possibilities. Space for entertainment shows such as the Cirque Du Soleil are fixtures at all the MGM properties in Las Vegas. Many casinos also have five-star restaurants, with world-renowned chefs tailoring the menus, on the premises.

This also falls under the umbrella of commercial use.

The commercial use for a property that is the most prevalent in some of the newest casinos in Las Vegas and around the world is shopping malls. This trend was pioneered by Caesars Palace Forum Shops in Las Vegas that opened on New Year's Day 1992. In 1998 when the Bellagio opened, there was a section of the property allocated for a few high-end shopping boutiques.

In the early 2000s the Planet Hollywood property in Las Vegas opened and it included a large shopping mall that mirrored the Forum Shops at prices more affordable to the masses. When the City Center Complex opened in LasVegas in December of 2009, The Shops at Chrystals opened up as a part of the complex. It was owned by MGM and was the home of several high-end retail shops like Louis Vuitton and Prada. The trend of associating commercial space with casinos was in full swing by this time.

Caesers, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood and the ARIA resorts all retained ownership of the commercial space at their respected resorts. They would sign leases with various retail companies for periods of time as a means to generate additional revenue for the company. Every so often the leases would have to be renewed and, depending on the sales of the store, lease rates could be negotiated.

Sales made by a particular store were tied directly to the traffic rate of the property. A 30% occupancy rating at Caesars would reduce the traffic flow of patrons frequenting the Forum Shops thereby reducing the purchase conversion rate. In the financial downturn of 2008, the shop owners had tremendous leverage and were able to negotiate very favourable rates for extended periods of time. This leads us to a huge blunder made in this area by the LasVegas Sands Corporation.


During the worldwide financial crisis, the shops at the Venetian were having a lot of trouble getting any type of retailers to occupy their spaces on strictly leasing terms. This led the board to sell the various retail spaces outright, at favourable terms for the buyer. This had the effect of reassuring the purchaser because they were not tied to any long-term payments and they were able to instantly begin building equity from their purchase, which at the very least was acquired at a discounted rate.

With hindsight, it’s my opinion that the Venetian was not looking at the long term when it made this decision. The global financial crash of 2008 scared everybody, and as a quick, knee-jerk reaction the Sands wanted to get the red ink out of their books as quickly as possible.

As we moved beyond the financial crisis the recovery slowly started to take over, patrons began returning to Las Vegas as a vacation destination and companies were no longer sending minimal personnel to the various conventions held there. The stores that occupied the retail space started increasing their sales and the equity in the retail space started increasing dramatically. And because the Sands no longer owned the space they were unable to increase their revenue from lease rates.

The total revenue of the Venetian was not as high as similar properties because they were not making as much from their commercial leases. This forced the Venetian to squeeze the customer from other areas. The casino games that were being offered were set up so the casino’s hold percentage was higher than before.

Most of the slot machines were set to their highest hold percentages, many of the blackjack games on the main became 6:5 payouts, for a natural and, a triple zero roulette wheel was introduced on the main floor under the name Sands Roulette, this game gives the house nearly an 8% edge over the player. Prices of food went up dramatically and comps offered by casinos went down dramatically.


These types of decisions are much easier to make for casinos in this scenario because there are no other revenue streams to consider. When players are not burned out at the tables they often take that extra cash and purchase goods and services at the resort property. These include products from stores, meals from restaurants and tickets for shows.

For one player this is not a factor but for the millions of players that walk through a casino a year this is significant. Even if only a tiny fraction of the players spend money at the shops, restaurants and shows, it translates into millions of dollars in sales over the course of a year and causes the value of the leased property to go up. Another negative impact is that the casino can’t negotiate better rates for items that can be purchased with players comp points, because there is no financial incentive to do so.

In recent years almost all of the main resorts on the Las Vegas Blvd and downtown Las Vegas have started charging for parking, even to casino guests and players. They do not collect money from their patrons they merely lease out the parking structure for a term of several years to an operating company. The operating company then installs parking ticket machines, gates and payment machines. They merely collect the money over the years of the lease. Again here, gaming companies are thinking short-term and not realising the negative perception they are creating with their customers. Creating more and more cost barriers for a customer to get to your product has an overall negative impact on revenue.

As we can see from the cited examples, the casinos have been in the real estate business for decades. But because it was viewed as a 360-degree revenue stream the gaming company was utilising to feed the main profit centres of the resort, it wasn’t viewed that way.

We are seeing today gaming organisations partition a division of their company to strictly deal with revenue generating through real estate applications. In effect, they are selling off pieces of their company that feed other parts of their total revenue equation. The assertion here is that the money in hand that is used for reinvestment will exceed the revenue that would be attained from keeping the asset. But what it is doing is showing little faith in the management team and foreshadowing a market reduction. The resorts, at least in Las Vegas, have convinced themselves that they are convention-centred destinations and the companies attending the conventions are the ones footing the cost and not vacationers. This type of thinking turns gaming companies into a B2B operation rather than an entertainment industry. Will it work? Maybe. Operators have just recently come back to profitability, stopping nearly a decade trend of losses. And even so the profits were just marginal. So now it’s a waiting game to see how the markets will react.
IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.