Casino executives said Wednesday that they're spending less time thinking about new card tables, slot machines and hotel rooms and instead are chasing new entertainment that's cheaper to offer and will distinguish their resorts.
Executives at an industry conference in Las Vegas said they are using retail, enhanced restaurants and other attractions to compete for consumers' leisure spending.
With casino gambling now available in 38 states, resorts need more than fresh tables and machines to compete.
CEO Virginia McDowell of Isle of Capri Casinos, for example, said she'd rather spend $200,000 on renovating a restaurant than on buying 10 new slot machines because more people will go to the restaurant.
"The key word right now is `uncertainty,'" said McDowell. She said she doesn't expect more stability for at least a few years.
"When you have 250-point swings in the stock market on a given day, it really makes it hard for people to feel good about spending their leisure dollars," she said.
McDowell said consumers are no longer debating which casino they'll visit, they're thinking about whether they'll gamble at all.
One analyst said slot machine makers are starting to cut their prices in response _ offering more discounts, longer trial periods or free machines if a casino purchases a certain amount.
"Manufacturers noted that operators were more focused on price and game performance rather than primary focus just being game performance," said Robin Farley, a gambling analyst for UBS Investment Research.
Patti Hart, chief executive of slot machine maker International Game Technology, said its new machines have to be so creative and technologically advanced that they help casinos compete to keep gamblers playing.
The conference, which many casino officials attend to buy slot machines and table games for the coming year, was six weeks earlier this year than last. Farley said that move could hurt year-over-year sales comparisons for September.
Orrin Edidin, president of Illinois-based slot maker WMS Gaming Inc., told The Associated Press in an interview that operators usually come to the show having already allocated what they plan to spend and are looking to get the most from their dollars. Edidin said WMS is pushing the way its machines handle player money to give gamblers the best experience while still being profitable to the casino.
"Everything else regarding a slot machine, the stuff you see and hear, all the bells and whistles, may seem important to a player, but what really keeps him there _ what retains the player _ is good math," Edidin said.
But Jan Jones, spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment Corp., said casino operators have to consider the overall picture when deciding whether to buy.
"You're playing a game of trying to determine when is not reinvesting going to really impact your customer experience," she said.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia