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Arnold M. Knightly

Casinos market to gays, lesbians

4 November 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- No matter what California voters decide today on Proposition 8 -- a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages -- Harrah's Entertainment plans to continue marketing to gay and lesbian travelers.

And why not? As a group, gay and lesbian travelers spend $64.5 billion annually in the United States, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and a study by Community Marketing Inc., a gay market research group, show.

"(Harrah's) realizes there's a demographic here that if you simply acknowledge they exist, that you have a little respect for them, they will be loyal," said Jeff Garofalo, a Las Vegas representative for the Human Rights Campaign, a national lobbying group. "If you know you're not going to face discrimination when you walk through the door, that goes a long way."

Since a state court legalized gay and lesbian marriages in California in June, Harrah's has increased its advertising to promote wedding packages for gays at Paris Las Vegas.

"We began working on the Paris ad three weeks before the (California) Supreme Court decision," said Mike Weaver, vice president of marketing for Paris Las Vegas and two other Harrah's properties. "We began running the ad a week (after the court's ruling)."

Harrah's continues to run two campaigns in California, a general ad targeting the same-sex community in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the "Marry in San Diego, Honeymoon in Paris," campaign using the company's only California property, Harrah's Rincon nearly 50 miles north of San Diego.

Gwen Migita, Harrah's director of corporate social responsibility, said the casino's owner, the Rincon Indian Tribe, has supported the campaign.

"Our commitment there was to become the first national gaming operation to offer the same-sex wedding packages during this window of hope in California," Migita said.

Both Weaver and Migita have donated money from personal accounts through the Human Rights Campaign to defeat the measure.

The Harrah's Rincon campaign was started using one of Paris Las Vegas' longtime employees. Casino dealer Dave Mikowski, who has worked at the property nine years, says he was planning a California ceremony to celebrate his 10th anniversary with his partner, Tobie Romzek, when Migita suggested moving the event to Rincon.

"It gives me such pride that I work for a company that even acknowledges and recognizes our community," Mikowski said. "I've had nothing but support as an individual and, now, as a gay married man."

Harrah's is not the only gaming giant on the Strip positioning one of its properties for gay and lesbian travelers.

MGM Mirage is marketing the Luxor as a destination resort for gay and lesbian visitors to Las Vegas.

But Harrah's became the first national hotel company to target gay and lesbian customers in a general market publication with a series of ads running in Details magazine over the summer.

Weaver said the casino giant identified the gay and lesbian traveler after a series of studies 21/2 years ago found same-sex couples were already coming to the Strip.

"We decided the gay and lesbian travel market is a very lucrative and appealing market financially," Weaver said. "The decision was very much based on this is a market that needs to be served because these folks are coming to Las Vegas, and we want them to stay here."

Las Vegas is second to New York City as the most frequent destination for gays and lesbians, according to an annual Community Marketing study of 7,500 travelers.

According to the Community Marketing study, 76 percent of U.S. lesbian and gay respondents have a current passport, compared with 24 percent to 30 percent of all adults who do.

Weaver said research by Harrah's, which has 15 foreign casinos, showed that pursuing gay and lesbian travelers was lucrative: Gay and lesbian travelers to the Strip come as couples, same-sex couples spend more per day than the average general market couple, and gay and lesbian travelers are loyal to businesses who extend a welcoming environment.

Casinos market to gays, lesbians is republished from