A changing profile of visitors to Las Vegas during 2021 when there was a younger crowd is a watershed moment, according to a casino consultant who’s been tracking the trend.
It’s one of the trends analysts are monitoring along with a dramatic increase in the number of families who came to Las Vegas in 2021 and whether both are a long-term trend.
The average age of Las Vegas visitors during 2021 was 43.2, down from 46.2 in 2019, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.
That’s a big gap, but what Oliver Lovat, CEO of the Denstone Group, said in his newly released study is how that’s part of a longer-term trend over the last decade-plus. The average age of visitors to Las Vegas was 49.2 in 2010 – six years older than it was in 2021.
In 2010, some 29% of Las Vegas visitors were under 40, but in the most recent LVCVA survey, those 40 and under comprised 46% of all customers.
The demographic profile of Las Vegas visitors has changed during the last decade as casino resorts and Las Vegas as a whole have added amenities catering to a younger audience, Lovat said. There’s new destination day clubs, essentially pool parties, like the Stadium Swim at Circa Resort that has six temperature-controlled pools and swim-up bars under a 143-foot LED screen.
Pools across Las Vegas feature music, food, waterfalls, lazy rivers, and games, including beer pong. Casinos are committed and on 1 April, the Venetian Resort’s Tao Beach Club reopened after a two-year, $50m renovation. Pools have featured celebrity DJs and even rappers such as DaBaby.
Casinos now offer supper clubs catered to younger generations who want to have dinner and entertainment without having to go to a bar, nightclub or show.
With the opening of the 65,0000 seat Allegiant Stadium to crowds for the first time in 2021 along with T-Mobile Arena that opened in 2016, Las Vegas has become a major sports destination with NHL and NFL franchises, college basketball tourneys and the host of the NBA Summer League.
Formula One racing will be coming to the Strip in November 2023 for the first time with more than 170,000 visitors expected from around the world. This week, Las Vegas hosts the NFL Draft on the Strip with hundreds of thousands of people expected over three days.
Las Vegas has now become a major concert destination with the opening of Allegiant as evidenced this month when the Korean pop group BTS four sold out four shows over the course of two weekends, filling casinos across the Strip with the younger concert goers.
In 2009, the Electric Daisy Carnival held every May at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where two NASCAR races are held a year, became a multiple day event and has exceeded 400,000 people in recent years.
Non-gaming amenities have always set Las Vegas apart from the rest of the world, but they have skewed to cater to younger crowds in recent years.
Since it’s been happening for a decade, Lovat said the younger demographic can’t be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though older customers have stayed away from travel and large crowds to protect their health. Since the start of the pandemic, casino executives said younger crowds have turned to casinos not only in Las Vegas but across the country because entertainment options were limited.
Lovat is among those not expecting that trend to revert back. He compares it to the aftermath of World War II, when younger people wanted to go out, have a good time and be entertained.
Las Vegas appears to be turning more and more into a vacation destination rather than a gambling destination. In 2021, some 52% of visitors said they came to Las Vegas for a vacation, up from 36% in 2019 while 8 percent said they came just to gamble, down from 14% in 2019.
“This is one we have been watching and waiting for a while,” Lovat says. “I think it’s a seminal moment because we’re beginning to see the rise of the millennial customers discovering Las Vegas and supplanting the baby boomers as the largest and most important demographic.
“What we’re seeing is the tail end of the old crowd and beginning of the new customer coming to Las Vegas. For me, what happens in the next eight years will decide the success of Las Vegas in this generation.”
Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and are between 26 and 41 today.
It’s part of the latest big demographic shift for Las Vegas’ growth that started in the 1950s and1960s with many born in the 1920s who were attracted to showroom entertainment and fine dining, Lovat says.
The second cycle led by baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 and who today are between 58 and 76 led the charge during the resort boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, he adds.
“We’re coming to the next cycle, and the beginning of millennials,” says Lovat, who adds there’s a misperception about them.
“Young people have never gambled in large numbers, no matter the generation. Four years ago when I wrote the paper on the next generation of customers, people were saying they don’t spend any money. But they are now, and between 2025 and 2030 we will have peak millennial spending in Las Vegas. The average millennial is not any different than the customers who came to the peak in the 1960s and 1990s.
“They’re going to Las Vegas to do fun stuff and gaming is part of the mix. And casinos have to start thinking about what are the needs of the next generation of customers, which they haven’t always done.”
Lovat says his research shows millennials prefer to stay at the properties that opened in the late 2000s – the two newest on the southern section of the Las Vegas Strip – Aria and The Cosmopolitan. The Cosmo has been helped by booking young artists before they hit it big, and those younger guests were attracted to the brand before they had more disposable income years later, he adds.
“It tells me what those properties offer is more attuned to what customers want than properties built 30 years ago,” Lovat says. “It’s design, functionality, food and beverage.
“They’re coming to Las Vegas as a legitimate vacation destination, whether they’re coming for sports and other activities. Notably, they are gambling more as well, but the more non-gaming things that you provide, you’ll find the customers will gamble as well.”
People who come to Las Vegas for the first time don’t gamble, whether they’re millennials or not, but the more often they come the more they will spend in the future, Lovat adds. Research shows that someone who visits Las Vegas eight times will spend about $2,000 on that trip.
“Four to five years ago it was tables and now what’s happened in the last two years since Covid is people are playing anything and everything,” he says. “I think casinos should be looking at building amenities to capture a share of the customer’s time because when they commit time, the wallet will follow. It’s not about capturing as much money as quickly as possible.
“It’s how you programme your amenities to fill the time of your customers.”
Attracting younger generations to casinos was a focus of the recent Casino Esport Conference in Las Vegas in which panelists said resorts should focus on virtual and augmented reality along with immersive experiences to attract younger generations. They cited AREA15, a non-gaming immersive experience west of the Strip as an example.
“If only the casinos had been as bold to think about doing something like Area15, it would have increased gaming revenue and room nights,” Lovat points out.
More is coming to Las Vegas to cater to younger crowds.
The British public concept Flight Club is making its entry to the U.S. by coming to the Palazzo at the Venetian on the Strip.
There were suggestions that Las Vegas needed an immersive indoor theme park like Motiongate Dubai.
Family visitation rises
The surprise of the survey was how in 2021 when Las Vegas started welcoming back visitors in greater numbers as vaccination rates rose, is how people were more likely to bring their children on their trip to Las Vegas. Some 21% said they had someone with them under 21. That number was only 5% in 2019.
Some analysts have already suggested that it’s a one-off, driven by kids being taught virtual classrooms, which enabled them to come with their parents.
Corey Padveen, a partner with t2 Marketing International who’s been tracking that trend, says he’s not surprised by the increase and expects more families to come in the future.
This is a different era than when Las Vegas in the 1990s tried to brand itself as a kid-friendly entertainment destination, only for Las Vegas to quickly turn to its Sin City adult-playground branding. There were concerns kids kept parents from gambling and how other visitors disliked running into kids and strollers on their trips.
An example was the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park that opened in 1993 and closed in 2000. It was built to provide entertainment for kids.
Padveen believes the appeal of Las Vegas is turning the city into a family destination with the resurgence of domestic travel because of limitations during the pandemic. Las Vegas has been even a more popular destination from those on the West Coast.
“What’s right next door has really gotten back into swing, and people have started to look at affordable options and nearby options that are much simpler, especially for families,” Padveen explains. “Yes, you have younger people coming out, but parents are seeing it as a tourism destination rather than an entertainment destination.
“It bodes well for the future of Vegas and is similar to what you saw in the recovery after 2008 when it shifted the focus of entertainment beyond the casino floor.”
Downtown Las Vegas has been a centre of the kid’s related activities. There’s the Downtown Container Park that has outdoor movies and activities like a treehouse and playzone. The Fremont Street Experience has a zipline. There’s Springs Preserve with its nature exhibits, The Discovery Children’s Museum, the Tank Pool at the Golden Nugget, the Neon Museum, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and Toy Shack store with vintage toys.
The survey showed visitors were more likely to visit downtown in 2021 with 53% saying they had done so compared to 42% in 2019. Some 59% said the upgraded
The Fremont Street Experience was the reason for visiting downtown.
Along the Strip there’s the High Roller observation wheel, Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, Adventuredome, an amusement park with rides and attractions at Circus Circus, and the Marvel’s Adventure S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Treasure Island.
Resorts World Las Vegas, which has family-friendly pools, opened in July 2021 and will contribute to Las Vegas becoming a family destination, Padveen notes.
“I think the revitalisation of downtown has helped with the family visitation and what’s happened on and off the Strip,” he continues. “Resorts are putting so much into the amenities outside of the casino. Resorts World international brand is known for a family-friendly resort experience, and I think they’ll apply that with a Vegas twist, which gives you a family-oriented property on the Strip.”
The idea is for Las Vegas to create additional attractions, whether it’s virtual reality and immersive experiences that make families want to visit the way parents go to Times Square in New York City to let their kids see something special, Padveen adds.
“I don’t think you will see double-digit increases every year (with families), but I do think it will be a steady climb in the number of people who are at the very least considering visiting Las Vegas as a domestic family trip.
“It’s about creating a new Vegas experience for families with children and not running them into a casino. Vegas has so much more to offer like virtual museums and virtual and augmented reality. I expect to see more of this with investments.”
Adam Wiesberg, general manager of El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas that is converting into a property for those 21 and older, says the property isn’t made for families because it doesn’t have a pool. Despite that, he he sees opportunities for kids coming to the city with their parents.
“You go to a typical Strip casino and you have a phenomenal pool and magic shows and other great shows for kids,” Wiesberg says. “There’s water parks and the M&M factory and roller coasters. I think it will continue to be family friendly.”
Other analysts weigh in on profile
Josh Swissman, founder of The Strategy Organization, sees the drop in the average age and percentage of those visitors as noteworthy, but expects that to drop once older customers, who are at higher risk from Covid, begin to return to casinos in greater numbers.
Swissman says the Vegas visitor skewed younger in 2021 because there weren’t many options for that age group, but that bodes well for the city in the future.
“They had a great time and enjoyed themselves and realized how cool Vegas is, and I think that sets them up for repeat visitation,” Swissman explains. “They are starting to build up that muscle memory and enjoy what Vegas has to offer, even if it’s not the gaming aspect that drives them. Without the gaming, Vegas represents a great destination with a lot of dining, entertainment, shopping, spas, nightclubs and pools.
“All of those are sticky assets and amenities and are big enough to drive people to come back to Vegas again and again. When they saw that casinos represent a great entertainment offering for non-gaming customers, they thought, ‘Where has this been all of my life? I need more Vegas in my life, and I’m coming back.’”
The profile has definitely raised a lot of questions of what it will look like in 2022 and beyond, according to Kevin Bagger, the vice president of the research centre at LVCVA. It’s a fluid environment, and they’re going to wait and see how behaviours evolve over time.
“Some of the characteristics may have been unique to the pandemic and may revert back to norms we have seen before,” Bagger says. “We are keeping an eye on that. We are still coming out of this (pandemic,) and it will be interesting to see how visitors evolve as we go forward.”
Mike PeQueen, managing director with Hightower Las Vegas, agrees that the visitor profile showed “significantly different demographics” for the average visitor in 2021 compared to 2019.
The big question is whether or not it is a new trend or something that will “normalise” in 2022 as older people feel more comfortable traveling.
“If our typical visitor is actually younger, that seems to bode well for the future vitality of our largest industry and it would also seem to confirm the wisdom of investing heavily in day clubs/nightclubs as well as video gaming facilities,” PeQueen says.
Andrew Klebanow, a principal with C3 Gaming, is amazed that Las Vegas has recorded record gaming revenue, with 12 consecutive months of $1bn and higher, despite not attracting its core constituencies, comprised of older gamblers, international visitors, and convention visitors.
“What appears to have happened is that a portion of the US population, comprised of younger, and more ethnically and racially diverse segments, grew weary of pandemic induced restrictions, and collectively decided to venture out and enjoy life again,” Klebanow says.
“A similar pattern is emerging in other tourist-centric cities such as Nashville. The question is, is this a trend that will continue in future years, or is it transitory?
“My instincts tell me that it is the latter. Should the pandemic continue to abate, Las Vegas will see the return of its core customers. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see Las Vegas was able to attract free-spending visitors during what should have been a slow period of recovery.”
Brendan Bussmann, managing partner for B Global, is not surprised that the demographic trended younger during the pandemic. While older customers, convention goers and international visitors haven’t returned in their normal numbers, the arrival of younger visitors is terrific for Las Vegas.
“The younger demographic is one you want to continuously cultivate because that’s your future customer,” Bussmann explains.
“Those are the ones who are going to be here for the next 30 to 40 years as opposed to the tried-and-true customers that we’ve enjoyed for the last 20 and are going to be here for another 10 to 20 to come.”
The arrival of the younger customers is going to change the casino floor and spark greater interest in sports betting and igaming.
They’re also going to demand more use of technology to interface with hospitality, Bussmann predicts.
“There’s nobody else that does it like Vegas is trying to understand their consumer,” he says. “It is a great place for leisure, business and sports. We’re still going to have those people coming back in the years to come.”
Buck Wargo is a Las Vegas-based business and gaming journalist. He’s a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas and worked as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East.