“Obedezco pero no cumplo” (I obey, but I don’t comply.)
It won’t work. Sorry to say that, usually my outlook is unwaveringly optimistic and pro-gaming, but the powers that be are asking too much this time.
Casinos and gambling establishments are being allowed to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown (just what right the authorities had to lock them in the first place is still a matter of debate. Vigorous debate). But, as the reopening establishments prominently advertise, it won’t be the same casino experience. You will be checked at the door for suspicious temperature changes. Will they scan or spot-check for changing temperatures in customers already admitted? Unknown, but the technology certainly exists. And do remember to keep your mask on!
Once inside, distancing rules will require that the gamblers and staff stay clear of each other. Half the slot machines have been inactivated. Nobody allowed within 6 feet of each other, and this includes blackjack and the crap tables. The restaurants, operating at half capacity, will have no more buffets (and anyway, nobody has explained how we’re supposed to eat with a mask on). Live entertainment? Some places yes, many other places no, and even where it’s allowed it will require double distancing. Handling betting chips? Cash? Nope. Put a payment app on your smart phone, you can’t transmit germs that way.
And they will be on the lookout – not for cheaters and thieves, but for anyone who gets out of line, or gets too close, or sneezes the wrong way.
You are expected to watch yourself, be vigilant at all times lest one of the rules be broken. Sounds more like an inspection parade or a battle drill in the military than vacation or amusement. In other words what is now being offered is the antithesis of a good time.
The online line of approach
Human beings have always been social and, and always will be. They don’t merely prefer each other’s company. They absolutely need it. Weddings, birthdays, funerals, campaign rallies – it’s all about sharing the experience with the people you know and care about. Camera links and conference calls are a poor substitute. Why do we resort to Zoom and Skype and such? Because we are prevented, by time, expense, and necessity, from physically meeting with each other, which is always the first thing we try to do.
But when we can’t, we can’t. In which case we use the remote access technology (just remember to put your pants on before you activate the camera). And here is where online, interactive gambling comes into its own. You can enjoy it in the privacy of your home. No need to be hassled at the airport, inspected, tested, and constantly lectured to by signs, screens, and the PA system. The betting odds are as good as you can get at the big resorts, sometimes even better. You can still communicate with fellow players, even if it is by chat room or post. Keeping and enjoying your winnings? There are all kinds of payments solution options available online.
And new games, too. Digital technology applied to games has given programmers the ability to mix and match elements from similar games, as with daily fantasy sports and combo poker offerings available on some sites, right through to new formats like eSports. In fact, we may have reached the long-desired point where a videogame can deliver the same fast action and chance of reward as what we would consider gambling games.
This new flexibility will be needed, for the pandemic has made gaming industry probes and experiments into, literally, the new reality. There will be a new landscape for operators. Many of the casinos that closed in March will not open again; in the new financial scheme of things, the expected return just isn’t worth the effort and expense. Mergers and acquisitions are definitely on the horizon for many more.
Consolidation makes gaming establishments stronger, and it takes the strong to survive in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic business environment.
Moving into remote and mobile gaming may very well spell the difference between success and oblivion, not only for individual companies and businesses, but for entire submarkets (again, look what happened when rotisserie league contests morphed into daily fantasy sports).
Some states are breaking out of lockdown as fast as they can, to restore a working economy for people who need it. Others are re-opening their economies as slowly as they dare, either for fear of blame for future outbreaks, or as a political ploy to influence public opinion before the coming elections. But even for the stubbornest jurisdictions, the shutdown must end.
And when it does, we come to the hidden catch in all the income predictions for the comeback. Given the current imposition of masks and distancing and how- many- people- in-a-room and marathon wipe downs for every horizontal surface, given the immense debts and deficits that the shutdown has generated for individuals, businesses and governments, recovery of gaming revenues to pre-virus levels is almost guaranteed to be a long haul. While it is true that crowds showed up for reopened establishments, the necessity of wearing a mask and watching your distance will slowly but surely discourage brick-and-mortar customers. Americans hate being told what to do, even when it’s right. Many of them will say, as The Who put it long ago, “We’re not gonna take it”. People come to casinos and other gambling establishments to forget their troubles and have a pleasant time, not to compete for the title of Most Obedient Customer. And lastly, belt-tightening in economic tough times means less money available for entertainment of every kind, let alone gambling.
And here is where mobile gaming of all kinds really shines. It’s convenient and instantaneous. You don’t have to buy a plane ticket or rent a hotel room to play online. The operators don’t incur billions in sunk cost and hospitality requirements. So Internet and interactive gaming businesses have an immense opportunity before them as the old business models are being run over, or dragged, kicking and screaming, into this century.
Stay tuned, one and all. Whatever else happens, it ain’t gonna be dull.