Before and After Cell Phones: A Generational Disconnect Forcing Change

Everything is constantly changing. Business, like all aspects of society, is dynamic and in a constant state of flux. The problem is not to understand change, but to anticipate the nature of the change. It is no secret that I believe the casino industry is at a critical juncture, a tipping point. To survive and remain viable the industry will have to change, re-engineer its business model and develop new products and services for a new generation of gamblers.

Every generation is different from the preceding generation, but I believe we have reached a point of generational discontinuity. Those people who reached maturity before cell phones and the internet became ubiquitous are very different from those people who were born into today’s technology. Previous generations did quite well with their father’s technology, entertainment and lifestyle. Each generation may have remodeled and updated things a bit, but they did not require something totally new.

The cell phone/internet generation does require something totally different. The challenge for casino operators and casino suppliers is to find that different thing and convert it into a casino game or entertainment. It does not call for invention, it calls for adaptation. None of the casino games we know and love were invented for a casino; they were adapted into a casino environment by casino operators. Card games migrated from social games to betting games and then were taken in by operators. Craps was always a gambling game, but it was not always even played indoors; keno, bingo and poker were very popular games before they ever set foot in a casino. Even slot machines were invented for other purposes, for gambling of course, but in isolated locations with just one or two set out for play.

The challenge now, is to reach out into society and find the activities that have the same elements of chance and excitement and convert them into casino games. That of course, is much easier said than done. What are the activities that might work? I don’t know, but I suspect there are people with a pretty good idea. One place to look for ideas is with casino employees; they talk to gamblers all of the time and some have good ideas. However, most of their ideas are for games that are simply refinements of existing games.

Call it craps for the Google generation. Props & Hops is a new game at Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where Thomas McCann, a table games dealer, has experienced a much younger crowd than he was used to during nearly three decades in Atlantic City. …after seeing multitasking young gamblers wanting to “talk on their phones and try to gamble at the same time,” he said…simplifying craps by focusing a game on two types of bets – proposition bets and hop bets, which is where Props & Hops got its name. Harold Brubaker, Philadelphia Inquirer , 4-30-14

That is a place to start, but at best those will just be stop gap, transition games. The answer eventually will be found in what those multitasking cell phone users enjoy doing. One idea is beginning to take hold in China – Xbox spectators. Apparently, arenas are being built for spectators to watch video game contests – and given that the spectators are Chinese, I would guess that someone is making book on the side right now. This is a natural to transform into casino entertainment with wagering. And it seems to me to be just what the industry needs – totally new games and totally new wagers.

There are already legendary islands off China’s southern coast where the millions travel to play games of chance. Soon an additional island will host throngs of gamers turning out to watch others play Xbox, complete with a 15,000-seat arena. The arena will be the centerpiece of a USD2.8 billion gaming theme park. A Hong Kong-based developer, Lai Fung Group, has just announced plans to build the video-game complex. A handful of dedicated facilities for video-game competitions have begun to emerge, part of a trend that marks a sort of coming of age for “e-sports.” Joshua Brustein, Macau Daily Times, 4-28-14

The possibility that seems to have the most potential to me is fantasy sports. Nothing is more natural, people have been betting on sports since sports were invented and with the introduction of fantasy sports it has become extremely popular. Of course, the question with fantasy sports and video game betting is just how to adapt it to a casino environment. It might work to put the experience in a box with a handle like a slot machine, or on a table like blackjack or poker, but I don’t think so. Somehow, casinos are going to have to find a way to combine the excitement of live action and skill, put it in a casino and book the action.

Millions of people have turned fantasy sports into a pastime. Ron Bernstein wants fans to come to his fantasy site to compete for real money in real time. Bernstein was a co-founder of the online prediction trading exchange known as Intrade, which got attention back in 2012 when it let folks “bet” on the Presidential election and the real-time outcomes of other world events, based on the “wisdom of the crowd…Bernstein’s new company was unveiled Wednesday as a public beta…Modeled after the stock market, fantasy fans can buy or sell shares tied to specific outcomes in real sporting events, with the price of these shares dynamically changing based on what happens during the actual games. Bernstein doesn’t characterize this as online betting, but rather “games of skill” which he claims are perfectly legal. Fantasy sports were exempted under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006. Edward C. Baig, USA Today, 4-30-14

It may be difficult, but it is necessary. There is a total disconnect between the pre-cell phone generations and the post-cell generation. The older ones are dying off and the younger ones are beginning to dominate society. Any business wishing to remain viable is going to have to adapt to the needs and desires of the cell phone generation.


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