Regulars helping prop up locals casinos during the pandemic

In a Nutshell

  • Locals casinos are faring better than publicly-traded ones despite the major blow that the pandemic has dealt on the tourism and gaming industries.
  • Gaming win for Strip resorts in September dropped 40 percent year over year, while that for Boulder Strip only declined 2 percent.
  • Examples of private properties that are doing fairly well are Emerald Island, the Rainbow Club, and the South Point.
  • Reduced travel could be one of the reasons for the phenomenon.

While the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a major blow to the gaming and tourism industries, there’s some evidence that locals casinos (particularly the smaller, privately-owned ones) are faring better.

Business on the Strip remains substantially down, with some hotel-casinos forced to shut down or close their hotels during weekdays.

Gaming win for Strip resorts fell almost 40 percent in September compared to the same month last year, the Nevada Gaming Control Board revealed. On the contrary, casinos on the Boulder Strip, which mainly cater to locals, experienced a decline of only two percent.

“We’ve found through our gaming-use data that private casinos are outperforming the publicly-traded casinos,” said a casino and gaming industry analyst with research firm M Science, Matthew Jacob.

Co-owner of the Emerald Island and the Rainbow Club in downtown Henderson, Tim Brooks, said his two locals casinos are holding their own, at least for now.

“That said, a lot of our guests do work on the Strip, so at some point, it’s going to have a ripple-down effect,” he said. “As the Strip goes, so go small casinos like us.”

The two properties, which Brooks took over with his brother Mike in May during the shutdown, employ approximately 270 people.

Other than Henderson city, the casinos’ parent company, Water Street Gaming, is the largest employer downtown.

Some 10 miles northwest, the Longhorn, another locals casino along Boulder Highway, is coping, according to co-owner Randy Miller.

“We’re able to make it, but we’re not able to maximize our facilities,” said Miller, whose group also owns the Bighorn in North Las Vegas.

He said Longhorn’s 150-room hotel occupancy has fallen from 2019 levels, though customers, mostly locals, are still frequenting the casino and its restaurants.

“We’re seeing mostly familiar faces, our regulars,” said Miller. “The hotel is a mixed bag because nobody’s coming through Las Vegas for special events anymore. At the hotel, it’s just travelers stopping by for an overnight stay.”

Although the South Point is privately-owned and operated, the property’s more than 2,100 hotel rooms and 80,000-square-foot casino make it a rival to many Strip casinos. However, the property also caters to the locals market.

General Manager Ryan Growney said while the hotel business has been awful, with occupancy ranging from 12 percent to 20 percent, the resort’s gaming numbers have been okay.

“We’re not doing great by any stretch, but we’re making a little bit of money. We’ve always appreciated the local gambler,” added Growney.

He said one of the reasons why locals business has remained steady is that valley residents, just like other Americans, are traveling less.

“Instead of taking their entertainment dollars elsewhere, they are spending those dollars here in Las Vegas,” he added.

I'm Adam Shaw, Senior Editor and one of the first members at VegasSlots. I'm a massive football sports fan but also love casinos and occasional trips to Las Vegas. Gaming runs in the family

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