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Who Visits Casinos?

14 March 2001

Just as in any other industry, casino operators like to keep an eye on who their customers are. And the ideal forum to present any such study is the annual World Gaming Congress and Expo, which on Oct. 20, 2000 concluded its three-day run at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

On the first day of the show, the American Gaming Association released its second annual "State of the States" survey, compiled from sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual Harrah's Entertainment/NFO Research survey, and state gaming boards and associations.

The survey is chock full of information, but the section that caught my eye was headlined "Seniors and casino entertainment." It seems once every couple of months I get a call or an e-mail from someone wondering how we can allow senior citizens to gamble away their Social Security checks. A couple of months ago, I spoke to a club in which one woman raised the possibility of a bus crashing on the way to the casino, burdening seniors' families with medical bills. I'm not quite clear on why that bus crash and its aftermath would be more tragic than if the destination had been a ballgame or nature park, but there you have it.

I always respond that I can't agree with any stereotype of senior citizens who somehow become too helpless to manage their own money the day they retire. Many senior citizens are affluent. Most have at least some disposable income. It is their choice, and not anyone else's, what they do with their money.

It seems seniors are telling Peter D. Hart Research Association and the Luntz Research Companies the same thing. In surveys by Hart and Luntz reported by the AGA, 90.7 percent of senior citizens agreed with the following statement: "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 time and money."

A lower proportion of average casino customers, 81.6 percent, also agree.

Percentages are roughly the same for a similar question. Among senior citizens, 90.3 percent agreed while 83.3 percent of average customers agreed that, "People should be able to go into a casino, have their own budgets and spend their disposable income any way they want."

And it seems that when they go to the casino, seniors show good common sense. Of those surveyed, 69 percent said they always set a budget before they start, compared with only 62 percent of average customers.

More than half, 56.3 percent of seniors, said their primary reason for visiting a casino is for fun and entertainment, while only 10.7 percent said gambling tops their list. Few -- only 3.3 percent -- go to the casino alone. Among seniors, 46.3 percent said they go with their spouse, 23.3 percent with friends, 14.0 percent with family and 11.3 percent with an organized group. The biggest differences among average customers is that more go with friends (33.1 percent) and fewer with organized groups (6.1 percent).

Whether to set a budget, whether to go with a spouse or on a bus tour, whether to go to the casino at all -- those are choices for the individual, seniors included.

Among other results reported by the AGA:

The average casino player is 47 years old, with a median household income of $45,667. Forty-six percent are white-collar workers and 54 percent have attended college. That makes the casino population slightly more affluent and better educated than average. The average American over 21 -- to filter out those under the legal gambling age -- is 46 years old with a median household income of $40,816. Forty-one percent are white-collar workers and 49 percent have attended college.

Thirty-four percent of Americans played in casinos last year, compared with 50 percent who played the lottery. The third leading form of gambling in the U.S. was sports betting pools, with 22 percent of Americans participating.

Commercial casinos -- as opposed to Native American casinos -- paid more than $3 billion in gaming taxes last year, an increase of $500 million from 1998. Those casinos employ 356,312 people, while tribal casinos employ another 151,688.

In Illinois, the nine casinos employ 10,566 people who earned $284.3 million in wages last year. Gross casino revenue was $1.4 billion last year, of which $419 million went to taxes. The city of Joliet is now debt free largely because of the economic boost from Harrah's and Empress casinos, which have contributed more than $25 million toward retiring the city debt.

In Indiana, the nine casinos have 13,880 employees who earned $407 million in wages last year. Gross casino revenue was $1.5 billion last year, of which $ 425 million went to taxes. Argosy Casino and Hotel in Lawrenceburg has contributed $129 million to improving roads and the riverfront and restoring historic buildings.

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