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Who Gambles?

17 August 2004

Recently, on the very day the American Gaming Association's "State of the States" survey crossed my desk, a caller wondered who gambles.

"Don't they prey on the poor?" she asked. "I go to the casinos and see people who really can't afford to be there, losing money they shouldn't be spending, chasing some impossible dream of riches."

Now, you certainly can find casino customers who would be better off doing something else with their money and who have unrealistic expectations. If you go looking for such players, you're going to find them. But let's say you go to each casino in the Chicago area and stop every 10th customer to go through the turnstiles, at different times of day and different days of the week, and get a representative sample of who goes to casinos. Then what kind of profile emerges of the typical casino customer?

That's an oversimplification of sampling methods, but Harrah's has been commissioning surveys by independent polling groups for years, and the surveys always have shown the typical casino customer to be slightly older, slightly better-educated and slightly more affluent than the average American adult.

Results of the latest Harrah's survey are included in the American Gaming Association report, which also zeroes in on economic impact and tax revenue from casinos, acceptance of casino gambling in the United States, growth of poker and more.

The section called "Casino Customers: Who Are They?" paints the same picture of casino customers we've seen in surveys over the last decade. Conducted for Harrah's by the NFO World Group, the survey finds a median household income of $53,204 for casino players, compared with a median of $45,781 for the overall U.S. population. About 55 percent of casinogoers have had at least some college, compared with 53 percent for the general population over age 25.

Further, employment for casino customers breaks down into 44 percent in white-collar jobs, 25 percent in blue-collar jobs, 17 percent retired and 13 percent in "other," compared with 41 percent white-collar, 27 percent blue-collar, 17 percent retired and 15 percent other in the overall population.

The median age of casino customers is 48, compared with a median age of 46 for U.S. adults over age 21.

Most of those differences are not large. In essence, you can say that casino customers reflect the U.S. adult population. If you go into a casino looking for people who can't really afford to be there, you can find them, but by and large casino customers are a cross section of the people you'll find in the surrounding community.

I've never seen a survey done on a strictly local basis, but I rather suspect one would find that the demographics of customers at each casino would reflect the demographics of their home area. Should a casino eventually be placed in Chicago, with a big, diverse population, casino customers would be a big, diverse local cross section.

In the "Casino Visitation" section of the survey, Harrah's/NFO World Group found that 54.3 million adults, 26 percent of the U.S. population over age 21, went to casinos in 2003. Of the more than 310 million casino visits by Americans in 2003, 24 percent came from the north central region of the country - Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Compared with other forms of entertainment, casino visits ranked far behind trips to movie theaters (1.57 billion in 2003) and museums (865 million), but well ahead of trips to zoos, aquariums or wildlife parks (138.4 million) or professional baseball games (106.5 million).

Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Luntz Research Companies surveyed American adults on their attitudes toward casino gambling, and results were included in the American Gaming Association report.

Nationwide, 54 percent of those surveyed agreed that casino gambling is "perfectly acceptable for anyone," and another 27 percent said it is "acceptable for others but not me personally." Only 16 percent said casino gambling is "not acceptable for anyone." In the industrial Midwest, 50 percent said casino gambling was acceptable for anyone, 32 percent said it was acceptable for others and only 15 percent said it was not acceptable.

When put to those surveyed as a matter of individual rights, an even higher percentage seemed willing to accept casino gambling. Eighty-six percent agreed, "People should be able to go into a casino, have their own budget and spend their disposable income any way they want." Eighty-seven percent agreed, "Gambling is a question of personal freedom. The government should not be telling American adults what they should or should not be doing with their own money." And 87 percent agreed with a nearly identical statement that substitutes "personal choice" for "personal freedom."

That acceptance should come as no great shock. After all, as the "Casino Customers" portion of the survey indicated, average Americans from all walks of life are walking through casino doors every day.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski