Pennsylvania and West Virginia Free Play Promotions Decline

Bethlehem Sands Free Play Promotions

Bethlehem Sands offers Mega Monday, a promotion which allows 5 winners of $250 in free play cash every hour.

Casinos in Pennsylvania and West Virginia do not offer as much free-play slot machine credit as they did a few years ago. Expenses associated with such promotions dictated the lesser amount of free-play.

Free play is a promotional credit that casinos offer to potential customers, as an incentive to give their establishment a try. It is like comps, but without the need to earn rewards.

Wherever they are based, casinos prefer to give out free-play instead of prizes. When they do, they have a better than 50/50 chance of not having to pay out at all, because the player might lose the free-play cash in their gaming sessions.

Pennsylvania Free Play Stats

Since its peak year in 2012-2013, Pennsylvania’s free-play promotions have declined about 10%. The 2012 amount of free-play cash was $681.2 million, while this fiscal year’s cash amount was $622 million.

Despite the trend, Pennsylvania still offers the second-most free play of any state in the Union. Of course, Pennsylvania is second only to Las Vegas in tax revenues from casino gambling, so it is natural to be second. As a top operator in the country, though, it is a sign that free play has its limitations.

West Virginia Free Play Stats

The trend is greater in the Mountain State. Since West Virginia’s peak year of 2011-2012, the drop-off has been closer to 20%. The 2011 free play was $93.9 million, while last year’s free play was $74 million.

West Virginia is nowhere near the hotbed of legal gambling that Pennsylvania is, yet its gaming operators have made similar decisions to the more establish casino companies in Pennsylvania. West Virginia has smaller gaming establishments like the Club Casino in Princeton, the Big Easy Poker Room in Cross Lanes, and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Ranson. In all, West Virginia has 7 land-based gaming operations.

Free Play Expanses for Casinos

Vince Manfredi of the San Diego-based Manfredi Consulting told Player’s Advantage that the costs involved called for a scale-back from the peak years. Manfrid said, “From operator’s point of view, there’s a cost to giving a player free pulls on a slot machine. There’s an expense, and the expense has to be managed.”

Some players use only the free play, then leave the casino. That becomes a sunk cost for the gaming operation. A certain amount is to be expected, just like a certain amount of promotional cash spent on advertisements will not get the desired response. Promotional free play works, but only to a certain extent.

Better Economy, Fewer Free Games

Another reason Manfredi gives for the lower amount of free play is an improving economy. As gamblers had more disposable income, they did not need incentives to return to the casino. Offering free play to valued customers provides the gamblers a better gaming experience, due to better overall odds.

The longtime gaming consultant says demographic shifts are underway which have changed the equation. The generation which likes slot machines the most are the Baby Boomers, but there are less members of the Baby Boom every year. Generation X players showed a decline in slots play, while millennial gamblers do not like slot machines much at all.

Changing Attitudes Towards Slots Row

Casino executives currently are brainstorming ways to get millennial customers through the door and gambling. Some have tried electronic table games. Others have tried skill-based gambling machines or skill slots. Still others have tried eSports lounges or virtual sports gaming. Atlantic City casinos have even held eSports tournaments, hoping to sell concessions.

Vince Manfredi discussed the changing attitudes towards slots row and how they are affecting the gaming industry as a whole. Manfredi said, “We’re in a state of flux. The slot experience has to be reimagined to appeal to a younger audience. The younger person is not as inclined to play in a traditional slot experience because it doesn’t compare well with other kinds of electronic gaming experience, where there is competition, there is socialization, there is more entertainment value through the animation.”