How to get millennials to gamble? Casinos bet on video games

The “Downton Abbey”-themed slot machine clearly had its charm. With a comfy, oversized chair and familiar depictions of Lady Mary, Mr. Bates and other characters from the television series, the single-player machine looked as cozy and safe as afternoon tea with the Crawley clan.

Which is exactly what’s wrong with slot machines, according to many millennials.

The generation weaned on adrenaline-pumping video games, mobile downloads and social experiences is turned off by the solitary passivity of traditional slots, where you push a button and hope for the best, gaming experts say. That’s prompting the casino industry — like countless other businesses — to evolve to suit millennials’ preferences.

Enter the Gamblit Model G machine, from Glendale-based start-up Gamblit Gaming. The fast-paced, multiplayer, no-seat machines are about the size of small foosball tables and fuse popular video game technology with wagering.

This month, two of the Gamblit Model G machines — the first in the state — were introduced at Harrah’s Resort Southern California and placed strategically adjacent to the popular bar Spiked.

“We’re always about innovation and what the next casino experience will be,” said Radley Medina, vice president and assistant general manager at the resort in Valley Center in northern San Diego County.

“Young people who grew up playing video games like to socialize, they very much like interactivity and innovation, they want something that uses some skill. This stokes your natural competitive side and it encourages people to bring people with you to play,” Medina said.

Harrah’s is just the latest casino to add the Gamblit machines. Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood, Paris, the Linq and a host of other Caesars Entertainment properties on the strip are also betting on them. Next up are the MGM Resort casinos.

“Our hardware production can’t keep up with the demand; we’re filling orders placed a year ago,” said Darion Lowenstein, 35, Gamblit’s chief marketing officer. Lowenstein — who spent about five years as a producer for video game giant Rockstar San Diego — said Gamblit is fielding requests from Australia, Asia and Latin America.

“I think this is the future of gaming. Slots are super successful, but they appeal to an older demographic,” Lowenstein said. “We look to the video arcade ... and we partnered with the Australian company that developed ‘Jetpack Joyride,’ which has had 350 million downloads. We’re taking hit mobile games and making a gaming version of them.”

The digital divide at casinos is becoming more apparent as younger visitors opt for table games such as blackjack or, frequently, don’t gamble at all.

“The younger generation does like the nongaming amenities like shows, clubs, restaurants, entertainment, concerts and hotels. Those things are part of the solution for casinos,” said Alan Meister of Nathan Associates Inc., an economic consulting firm.

Over the past two decades, Las Vegas — and California — casinos have sought to widen their customer base by adding more gourmet restaurants, tricked-out hotel suites, pulsating nightclubs and glitzy pool complexes and spas.

But casino floors have remained essentially the same.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Meister said.

“The next generation of gamers — millennials and beyond — [has] been a big part of the discussion in the gaming industry: ‘What are we going to do about it? How are we going to attract them? How are we going to get them into the casino and gamble?’ But younger generations have never been a large part of casinos to begin with,” Meister said.

“Casinos need to concentrate on their core customers, who are older. It’s not millennials right now, but going forward they’re going to be the customer base,” he said. “They don’t have as much money to spend now, but they will.”

michele.parente@sduniontribune.com

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