While the economy drains Connecticut’s casinos of valuable revenue, their investments in Asian gamers hedge those losses.
“There’s no question it has held up better,” said Anthony Patrone, senior vice president of marketing at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. “We are happy about that, but we are not taking it for granted.”
Since their openings in the 1990s, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket offered games such as baccarat, sic bo and pai gow that attract Asian gamers. As the heavy Asian populations in New York and Boston responded in strong numbers, the casinos rolled out more tables and eventually separate gaming areas for the Asian market.
Those investments, along with Asian-specific entertainment and marketing, paid dividends from the beginning, but they are especially vital now as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun report overall drops in gaming revenue.
The latest figures for slot machine revenue — released for May — show Mohegan down 7 percent and Foxwoods down 9 percent for the year. Both casinos have lost more than 15 percent of their slot revenue over the past five years. The month was the slowest May for slot machine revenue since 1997 for Foxwoods and since 2002 for Mohegan Sun.
Although not reporting specific figures on patrons, Foxwoods and Mohegan both say that Asian gamers constitute 20-25 percent of the casino visitors. The vast majority are Chinese with Korean and Vietnamese players also coming in significant numbers. Japanese and Cambodian patrons also frequent locations.
After Mohegan Sun opened in 1996, the casino saw an 8-10 percent increase in Asian gamblers every year, Patrone said. That culminated in 2007 with the opening of Sunrise Square, a specific gaming area including popular Asian table games like baccarat. The popularity increased until 2009 when the recession slowed business throughout the casino.
Sunrise Square boasts 50 table games with room for 368 players. Throughout Mohegan Sun, there are 75 tables for baccarat, pai gow and sic bo totaling 536 seats, the most of any location in the United States, Patrone said.
Foxwoods boasts 51 Asian table games with the 34 baccarat tables being the most popular on the property, said Steve Ma, Foxwoods vice president of Asian marketing. The games all are located in one area, so the patrons that frequent them don’t have to travel far.
Baccarat was small part of Foxwoods offering when the casino opened in 1992, but more Asian tables and games are added each year.
“After we increased the tables, we just have to make sure we fill them; and we’ve never had to take tables away,” Ma said. “The Asian customers like to gamble.”
Gambling has strong traditions in the Chinese culture, and that has permeated to the surrounding counties, although to a lesser degree, said Vera Schwarcz, director of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University.
“It hasn’t been frowned upon like in Christian cultures,” Schwarcz said. “Finding shortcuts in the dream of realizing wealth is something that’s more acceptable.”
Chinese men go out to drink and gamble, and Chinese women stay home to gamble with friends, sometimes in large groups, she explained. The Chinese people believe strongly in luck, which coincides with their feelings toward fate and fortune.
“It’s not like if you go out and gamble that you are a bad family man,” Schwarcz said. “If you gamble and win, it goes toward your social status of having more money.”
Asia, especially China, has become the new hotspot for American casinos to drum up new business. For a long time Las Vegas casinos have sought out high rollers in Asia to fly into Nevada, Patrone said. Now casino companies build properties in the Far East, particularly Macau.
The Connecticut casinos count on the regional market and don’t devote much time to enticing millionaire high rollers from Asian countries, the way Las Vegas casinos do, Patrone said. The competition for those whales is too much to overcome unless they are in the Northeast for business in New York or visiting a student in Boston.
While Connecticut’s Asian population is below the national average of 4.4 percent, New York and Massachusetts are above average, particularly in the New York City and Boston areas where 1 in 12 people — or 1 in 5 in some areas — are Asian, according to the U.S. Census.
To make sure they have a steady supply of gamers, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods run buses from these heavy Asian population centers where patrons receive complimentary food or casino credit to offset the bus ticket cost. Foxwoods runs 48 buses per day while Mohegan Sun claims to have more. Most Asian gamblers arrive in the morning and afternoon, Ma said.
As said Patrick Cooke, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing of China Elite Focus, the Seattle-based marketing agency specialized on affluent Chinese tourists “For wealthy Chinese inbound tourists in the US, gambling is an important part of the global travel experience. It’s as important as a luxury shopping session at a Louis Vuitton store”
To compete with Atlantic City casinos for the New York City customers and with each other for the Boston customers, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun aggressively market to those populations.
Foxwoods has a variety of Asian promotions, such as Chinese concerts, shows, baccarat tournaments, and different summer offerings for the buses, Ma said.
Mohegan Sun sends out Chinese-language and Vietnamese-language mailings; features four Chinese TV stations in its hotel; hosts the Miss NY Chinese beauty pageant; and showcases 10 or more concerts every year featuring Chinese stars, each garnering 7,000-8,000 attendees, Patrone said.
In August, Mohegan Sun will roll out a series of e-mmercials on its Chinese language Web site featuring Chinese celebrities chatting up customers.
As competition stiffens for Asian gamblers — the Empire City Casino in Yonkers offers a closer alternative for New York’s slots players — Connecticut’s casinos work to ensure this increasingly important portion of their business feels like a priority, Patrone said.
“We are one of the most visited sites on the East Coast for Asians, maybe in the whole country,” Patrone said. “This really is a discerning, discriminating market that will go away if you’re not careful.”
Tag Archives: Chinese gamblers
While the economy drains Connecticut’s casinos of valuable revenue, their investments in Asian gamers hedge those losses.
It’s the time of year when red and gold lanterns adorn Strip casino ceilings and citrus trees line hotel lobbies. It isn’t your typical New Year’s décor but a sign that Las Vegas is ready to usher in another round of celebrations — and one of its most profitable periods of the year.
The Chinese New Year officially begins today, bringing thousands of domestic and international tourists to Las Vegas and injecting million of dollars into the city’s economy.
The holiday ranks among the busiest times on the Strip, along with New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl weekend, which coincides with the beginning on Chinese New Year.
“Chinese New Year very important to us financially, maybe not in terms of overall visitor count, but clearly for gaming volumes, especially baccarat. The financial impact can rival what the town experiences for New Year’s Eve,” said Greg Shulman, vice president of international marketing for the Bellagio.
Shulman said the majority of MGM Resorts International’s customers travel from Southern California for the holiday, but their higher-end customers come from areas such as Hong Kong, Mainland China and Taiwan.
As said Patrick Cooke, Vice President of US Sales and Marketing of China Elite Focus, a marketing agency helping resorts and casinos to attract wealthy Chinese visitors “The second wave of wealthy Chinese gamblers is coming to Las Vegas. The first wave arrived about five years ago, it was mostly Chinese businessmen spending two days in Vegas after business and official meetings in NYC of Los Angeles, now, this second wave is made of pure leisure tourists who stay one full week in Vegas and may easily have a budget of $100,000. This is a huge opportunity for Vegas resorts and Casinos”
Chinese New Year typically attracts a high-end clientele who spend more than the average vacationer, especially on the casino floor with high stakes gaming like baccarat. The holiday will last through mid-February, resulting in longer stays for international guests with extended vacations.
Shulman said it’s not uncommon for a guest coming from overseas to stay for up to two weeks and at multiple resorts. It’s more about the experience for those guests, he said. Strip casinos have been preparing their grounds for weeks with traditional and ornate decorations to welcome guests for the holiday.
The Bellagio Conservatory features thousands of live flowers surrounding an 18-foot statue of Cai Shen, the Chinese god of prosperity.
About 8,500 plants have been fashioned into a mother and eight baby rabbits in honor of the Year of the Rabbit.
MGM Resorts will kick off the new year with ceremonial lion dances at Bellagio, MGM Grand, Aria and the Mirage. The dance is meant to ward off evil spirits of the past year and bring good luck for the new year.
The celebrations at MGM Resorts will culminate with a gala for invited guests at Aria on Saturday for invited guests.
Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment each have traditional lion dances scheduled at their properties, as well as special menus catering to their Asian guests.
This weekend, Caesars Palace will host performances — they are nearly sold out — by Hong Kong-based singer and actor Jacky Cheung, Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner said. The shows are expected to bring an additional 4,000 people to property each night of Cheung’s three-night stay, he said.
“The holiday is always a busy time for Caesars Palace, but this year in particular because it lands on top of Super Bowl. Each of those are busy times, so the two of them together is going to be spectacular,” Selesner said. “It’s clearly one of the most important the periods of the whole year.”
The majority of the wealthy guests staying at Caesars Entertainment properties for the holiday will be at Caesars Palace, but just like domestic customers, some prefer the budget-friendly hotel-casinos for their attractive prices, Selesner said.
“Each of the other properties in Las Vegas, they are all celebrating Chinese New Year with their customers with decorations, promotions and special events,” Selesner said.
While properties like Caesars Palace have been celebrating Chinese New Year for more than 35 years, M Resort is ringing in its first. General Manager Jody Lake isn’t ready to let the Strip casinos be the only ones to cash in on the holiday.
Lake, who came to M Resort from Station Casinos in July, said Palace Station in particular targeted Asian clients and is where he learned the importance of marketing the holiday.
“The business Chinese New Year has generated on the Strip is pretty substantial. With all the events the Strip casinos have, they pull all the play their way,” Lake said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve seen a greater influx in Asian business to our property, somewhat due to our location and the ability to get here from California.”
Lake said M Resort has a “significant” Asian host program, which the resort has been actively marketing in the Los Angeles area. The resort held an event in Chinatown in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and expects to see more customers as a result.
The resort will be hosting its first lion dance this weekend, as well poker tournaments and special menus at its restaurants for the occasion. M Resort will be selling specialty $8 chips, a lucky number in Asian culture, commemorating the Year of the Rabbit.
“The holiday is a lot of fun,” Lake said. “It brings a good crowd and good energy, and it just brings a lot to the month of February.”
They are coming by the tens of thousands. Even more are wanted. Chinese visitors are becoming such a key part of Atlantic City’s tourism industry that The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey held a special seminar on May 12 on ways local businesses can attract them.
Improving relations between the Chinese and U.S. governments, the growing wealth of Chinese citizens and the strong Chinese appetite for American goods are driving the tourism market, one expert says.
“I think there is interest from both the Chinese side and the American side,” said Ai Zhang, a Stockton communications professor who will host the seminar “The Competitive Edge: Attracting and Meeting the Needs of the Chinese Tourist.”
Zhang, a Chinese native who came to the United States in 2003 to pursue higher education, said each time she returns home, the Chinese enthusiastically ask her how they can arrange trips to America. She views the seminar as a bridge to connect the two countries.
“Globalization has become more important,” she said. “The Chinese want to learn more about American culture.”
Atlantic City’s casinos already cater to affluent Asian-American gamblers through an array of Asian-themed games, restaurants and decor. Overseas, the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau has become the world’s hottest casino market, eclipsing even Las Vegas in gaming revenue.
“Gambling is now very public in China,” Zhang said. “The Chinese want to enjoy places of interest. I think that by going to the gambling houses and the casinos, they can learn about American culture.”
The seminar provided an overview of what Chinese tourists are looking for when they visit the region. It also will examine key cultural differences, such as communication styles and spending habits.
With the Chinese economy now booming, an influx of wealthy Chinese visitors would be a welcome boost to Atlantic City’s sluggish market. Zhang said that in addition to casino gambling, Chinese tourists are particularly eager to spend their money on U.S. fashion and electronics.
“I think we need to take this time to attract people from China because of their strong economy,” she said. “In the United States, we are experiencing a financial crisis, so I think that bringing in more Chinese tourists is a way to help our economy.”
Mayor Lorenzo Langford has discussed the possibility of making a trade trip to China and Japan this month to generate more Asian business for Atlantic City. Sinova Consulting LLC, an Atlantic City-based firm, announced in March that it had reached an agreement with a tourism company in China that could bring 20,000 to 50,000 Asian visitors to the city this year.
The Stockton seminar was inspired by a story in The Press of Atlantic City about the Sinova deal, said Cynthia B. Sosnowski, the college’s executive director of continuing studies for health sciences and human services.
“We see this seminar as the first of a number of possible ways in which Stockton can work with the business community in expanding the Chinese and greater Asian market,” Sosnowski said in a statement. “Based on feedback on this seminar, we expect to develop additional programming and resources on the topic.”