The Destination versus the Convenience Gambler: Is There Really any Evidence of a Distinction?
Casino proponents want you to believe that the universe of casino gamblers is divided into two groups, “destination” gamblers, who want to make an event out of their gambling trips, and “convenience” gamblers, who are interested in more frequent but less expensive trips. Based on this hypothetical partition, casino proponents claim that a Harrah’s casino in West Warwick won’t cannibalize gaming revenues at from Lincoln Park or Newport Grand. Lincoln and Newport are convenience facilities, they say, and convenience gamblers won’t be interested in the things a destination gambling facility will provide.
It is difficult to look at Rhode Island’s gambling revenue numbers and take this argument seriously.
First of all, the term “convenience gambling” doesn’t really capture what goes on at Lincoln Park. According to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis’ 2006 New England Casino Gaming Update (performed by the same research group who performed the pro-casino Rhode Island Building Trades study), the typical gambling visit of a Lincoln Park patron is a larger event (measured in dollars lost) than the typical gambling trip of a Foxwoods patron. The average Lincoln Park gambler from Rhode Island loses an average of $154 per visit; Foxwoods gamblers from Rhode Island lose only an average of $129 per visit. (Philosophical question: Should it still be called gambling when you know you’re going to lose over the long haul?). Does it make sense to associate the gamblers who spend more-per-visit with convenience-oriented behavior?
In addition to spending more money, Lincoln Park patrons also make many more trips per year to gamble than do Foxwoods patrons (or Mohegan Sun patrons). On average, the average Rhode Island-based Lincoln Park patron makes 18.45 gambling trips per year. By contrast the typical RI Foxwoods patron makes only 5.19 visits per year (and the typical Newport Grand patron makes only 5.68 visits per year). The large amount lost per visit to Lincoln Park times the large number of trips per patron means loss per patron at Lincoln is staggeringly high — $2,850 per patron per year.
Lincoln Park patrons aren’t “convenience” gamblers, they are “heavy” gamblers, looking for the nearest place where they can gamble very large amounts of money very often.
Another result from the 2006 Casino Gaming Update casts doubt that these “heavy” or “convenience” gamblers won’t choose to make frequent trips to a West Warwick casino instead of Lincoln Park. The study looked at what percentage of Lincoln Park/Newport Grand patrons had visited Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun and vice-versa. The study found that most (meaning numbers in the 80% range) Lincoln and Newport patrons have made a visit to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, but most Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun patrons haven’t visited Lincoln or Newport. The sensible conclusion is that the most significant partition of the gambling population is not between destination and convenience gamblers, but between slots-only players and more diversified gamblers. Diversified players are not satisfied by slots alone, so they go to the destination casinos (Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun). Slots players, on the other hand, will go anywhere where there are slots (Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Lincoln Park, or Newport Grand) regardless the other activities that might be available.
Since slots players are going to go anywhere there are slots, the idea that Rhode Island’s significant population of heavy gamblers isn’t going to take some of its many trips each year to West Warwick and reduce the state?s Lincoln Park’s revenue is self-serving speculation. And fiscally speaking, because Rhode Island has become so addicted to gaming revenues to balance its budget, it is potentially ruinous speculation.