Another chapter in burnt ribs, gambling men and hungry fish

Thinking about the evolution of events like Burning Man, the Nugget Rib-Cook-off, Hot August Nights or any of the others that dot not only Reno’s landscape but every city’s cultural landscape is for me just another way of thinking about the evolution of gaming destinations and casinos in general.

It isn’t really news any longer that Pennsylvania is eating Atlantic City’s gaming lunch – since the first Pennsylvania slot machine was put out for play in 2006, Atlantic City revenues have declined $1.5 billion and are on track to lose nearly another half a billion this year.  Big impact! Now everyone recognizes it and it is included in any discussion of the casino industry in New Jersey.  Today the Press of Atlantic City wrote another story on the subject, this one about the opening of the next casino in Philadelphia and its impact on AC.  Philadelphia, according to the story, will be largest – until New York City – city in the country with a casino; Philadelphia has also traditionally been home to a significant percentage of Atlantic City gamblers.  The Press thinks it will be another serious blow to AC; but that isn’t the real story for me.

There was another story today, this one from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; that focused, not on Philadelphia, but on the possibility that there could be one or even two new casinos within 50 miles of Pittsburgh.  The Rivers, the casino that is in Pittsburgh has not done as well as had been predicted; it came late into the market after all but two other casinos in the state,  and that includes two within that are within a 50 mile radius of Pittsburgh.  Rivers is profitable, but not by any means a resounding success and that makes it very, very vulnerable to a new kid or two on the block.

So here we fall back on old Charlie Darwin; a species can be expected to continually adapt and change over time, it can also expect to diversify into all of the possible niches within an environment.  So, for example there are two related species of fish that got locked into some mountain lakes in North America by a receding ice age – sometimes one species is alone in a lake and sometimes two share the same lake; when one is alone in a lake it eats everything – of the varieties of plants and animals that it eats – from top to bottom of the lake; when two species share the lake they have learned to divide the lake, one feeds off the bottom and the other feeds between the bottom and the surface of the lake.  That is a really successful strategy for both.  But introduce a species – or worse two or three – into the lake and the strategy fails and disaster ensues.

We are watching that happen now, first it happened in Atlantic City as more and more fish entered its isolated (think Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York and now Pennsylvania), protected little lake that was home to the casinos of Atlantic City and began staking claims to food sources – to continue the metaphor of the fish, AC was left with the bottom of the lake, but nothing grows on the bottom of that lake – the Atlantic City fish has to sit and wait for the food that falls down and filters past the fish feeding and fighting each other higher up in the waters of the lake.

More and more than same metaphor can be applied to Pennsylvania.  And it is not just Pittsburgh, Philadelphia will be the same, the new casino is going to take significant market share from the casinos just outside of Philadelphia that up to now have been feeding on Philadelphia.  And there is yet one more species getting ready to jump into Pennsylvania – Ohio.  The casinos closest to the Ohio border are going to have to share their food with a fish that is feeding closer to the source.  I think Charlie would have loved watching this, he liked practical, close to home empirical data to use when trying to prove a point.


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