Strategy

Research Brief: Understanding Casino Operations

Given the uncertainties of coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”), investors are looking to understand the general operating parameters of a given casino operation and fixed versus variable expenses. This document provides detail on the intricacies of casino operations from a revenue and expense standpoint, including gaming revenues, operating expenses, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (“EBITDA”). The goal of this exercise is to provide an understanding of how these items may fluctuate between operators, as well as between jurisdictions. Additionally, this document will provide readers with an understanding of fixed versus variable expenses (for facilities that are open), allowing investors to more accurately project the performance of target properties under a variety of recovery scenarios.

The following discussion is based on Global Market Advisors’ (“GMA”) experience of reviewing hundreds of income statements from casino properties across the world. For the purposes of this analysis, GMA focused its evaluation on regional gaming operations in the United States, representing casino operations that have generated between $50 and $700 million in annual gaming revenue. Often, the only access that investors may have to operating income statements would be from those published from Nevada and New Jersey. As will be seen within this document, many departmental and overall margins vary greatly from casinos between these and other states. While many operations may have expenses that lie outside of the ranges presented in this report, the overwhelming majority of regional casinos across the United States likely fall within these ranges.

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The Evolving Casino Marketing Landscape

Twenty years ago, there was much talk in the gaming industry of how to engage GenXers, and the potential value of this segment. As GenX is only now becoming a meaningful contributor to the industry, this conversation has now evolved into the current hype around millennials.

What allowed GenXers to become gamers is simple: they began to acquire the two key items that people need to gamble—time and money. As millennials age, we will see them gravitate toward casinos gaming as well. While the demographics of casino participation have been little changed for a generation, there have been material changes in products, channels and, importantly, methods of engaging with casino patrons.

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Macau: The Future Beyond the VIP

Fifteen years ago, on May 18, 2004, Las Vegas Sands Corp. opened Sands Macao and changed the course of casino gaming in the region.

Macau was once considered a secondary gaming market that catered to a small base of customers from Hong Kong and Guangdong, China. However, Sands Macao and subsequent entrants demonstrated that by providing high-quality gaming, dining and lodging environments, markets will respond.

In the case of Macau, markets responded enthusiastically. In 2005, the city’s casinos generated $5.9 billion in gaming revenue, and by 2018, the industry had generated $37.9 billion.

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Rethinking Food & Beverage

Of all the issues facing casino leadership, there is no greater quandary than solving the food & beverage equation. Restaurants in particular, present a host of issues. They are notoriously expensive to operate, consuming copious amounts of labor and product costs. Rarely do individual outlets post a profit and departmental profit is often dependent on beverage sales. High levels of customer satisfaction can be difficult to achieve, given that many players visit the same restaurant outlets on each visit, and in turn get bored with the menu selection. Perhaps the hardest aspect is balancing the needs of very frequent players while using food & beverage as a tool to attract new customers. Given all this, it may be time for casino operators to rethink their food & beverage programs.

Both commercial casinos in regional markets and Indian casino operators have historically adopted the same basic restaurant strategies, offering a buffet, three-meal room, quick-serve outlet and perhaps a more upscale steakhouse/ special occasion restaurant. Before undertaking a wholesale redesign of food & beverage outlets, it is important to understand how this basic suite of restaurant products came to be and then ask if those products meet the needs of the business and the preferences of today’s customers.

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Sports Betting Across America: A 2019 Legislative Preview

As 2019 begins, states across the country are looking at their legislative agendas. Every state’s legislature will meet in 2019 and there will be several issues that will be discussed,some of which will revolve around gaming and lottery. One thing that will likely be discussed in every state is the potential for sports betting. This is an important opportunity for state lotteries to expand their portfolio of games and connect with the next generation of players.

Many states are assessing the expansion opportunities for the lottery. This may include the use of video lottery terminals, iLottery, or other forms to sell their existing products through the internet, kiosks, or other means. The potential for sports betting to enhance funding for good causes is another option that many Lottery Directors across the country are hoping their state legislators are considering. Commercial casino and online gaming operators also recognize the economic potential of sports betting, and are lobbying state legislators to implement a license-and-regulate model that would enable them to offer sports betting.

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If PASPA is Repealed, Then What?

Much has been written about the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and its possible repeal. To summarize, there are three possible outcomes. The first is that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rules PASPA is unconstitutional. In that case, it will be up to individual states to decide whether to allow sports betting and the various forms it might take. The second scenario is that SCOTUS lets PASPA stand in its current form. In this scenario it would be up to Congress to decide if it wants to repeal or amend PASPA. Given the current political climate in Washington D.C., passage of such a bill might take some time. The third scenario is that SCOTUS takes a completely different route, either issuing a partial repeal or
potentially invalidating the four state exemption that currently exists.

Should the Supreme Court rule in New Jersey’s favor, one can expect sports betting to be available in a number of jurisdictions in fairly short order. Five states, outside of the four that
already had legislation in place prior to the passage of PASPA in 1992, have already passed legislation authorizing sports betting, and approximately fifteen others are considering enabling legislation or studying the issue. The question now becomes, should PASPA be repealed, what are the challenges that America’s tribes face in creating sports betting products that are competitive with what various states with commercial casinos and lotteries will ultimately offer.

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The Millennial Is Not Your Customer

Millennial has become the new buzzword and focus of the gaming industry and commerce as a whole.

What do millennials like? How do we design our product to attract millennials? Should we serve only organic food in our restaurants and provide beard trimmers in our bathrooms?
Some casinos believe that millennials prefer table games over slots. Or, for slots, millennials will like skill-based games, so money should be invested in skill-based pits. Despite many casinos trying to attract millennials, not one casino has succeeded in a meaningful way.

The reason is that millennials will not be valuable casino customers for another 20 years

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Pampering, Purchasing, and Partying: More opportunity for increased revenue

Providing customers with experiences that exceed their expectations significantly improves the operator’s ability to attract and retain customers.

These experiences can be created in a casino resort environment in spa, retail, nightlife and entertainment in both destination and regional gaming markets. Customers who provide feedback
tend to be inclined to offer both positive and constructive feedback that focuses much on their non-gaming experiences.

Incorporating non-gaming amenities as a complement to the gaming experience provides customers a more complete and hospitality-driven visit. These concepts are not new. Carefully planned and well-executed non-gaming amenities provide operators with significant opportunities to increase revenue, profit, and ultimately, customer loyalty.

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Changing the Face of the Industry

In this, our second in a series of discussions about the role of non-gaming amenities in both destination and regional gaming markets, we focus on the extraordinary and ongoing evolution of hotels, and how to assess, strategize and implement change.

The “lens” we use is comprised of five attributes that, when integrated, provide operators with a framework to create a comprehensive strategy for developing a new hotel or rebranding and refurbishing an existing one: the strategic assessment lens. This approach has helped several operators create new development and rebranding strategies for successful restaurants, bars, nightlife, entertainment and retail venues, casinos and hotels.

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The 5 Ps of F&B Success

In today’s business environment, casino operators must find ways to enhance and maximize the appeal and gross operating income of their food and beverage venues. An effective food and beverage strategy should not only attract and retain gamers, but generate profit through proper pricing and planning.

Las Vegas Strip operators have clearly demonstrated how profit can be gleaned from F&B operations. Bars and restaurants today are a significant generator of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for many Vegas resorts. Outside Vegas, many operators have discovered how well-run restaurants and bars with quality food offerings can benefit the bottom line.

While regional casinos differ substantially from those on the Strip, they can apply the same practices to turn a profit from dining.

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