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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

10 July 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It's the thick of summer in Las Vegas, which means pool parties amid bikini-clad servers, afternoon boozing at extended happy hours and ¦ free kiddie movies and video games at the Four Seasons?

Bucking the Sin City image, the upscale, nongaming hotel has entered its fourth year of a family promotion that includes reduced rates for kids staying in a separate room and a package of perks to keep the young 'uns happy while Mom and Dad gamble.

Other Strip operators say they're not interested in luring families and won't be offering similar deals anytime soon.

"We are operating an entertainment business that is oriented toward adults," Harrah's Entertainment spokesman David Strow said. "We're pretty adamant about that."

The Four Seasons is attached to Mandalay Bay but doesn't have its own casino. The hotel has a following among business travelers who bring their families along on business trips that carry over into long weekends. The chain is known for being family-friendly year-round, greeting the little ones with M&Ms and other gifts.

Family bookings are already ahead of last year, roping in new customers with regulars, Director of Marketing Kathy Van Vechten said.

"We indoctrinate the little people early," she said.

• • •

The results from Harrah's annual survey of casino gamblers are in, and they suggest that, by some measure, gamblers are a bit more sophisticated - and less religious - than nongamblers.

People who said they gambled in casinos last year are richer, better educated and more trendy than their nongambling counterparts, according to data collected from telephone polls and interviews with more than 16,000 people by two research firms. The polling had a margin of error of about 2 percent. The survey, one of two major industry-funded gambler profiles, is intended to dispel myths about gamblers and has been a longstanding irritant to casino foes nationwide.

This year's survey says gamblers are more likely to have tasted various ethnic foods, used new technology, redecorated their homes and taken long trips, among other consumer-friendly activities.

Gamblers aren't much more heathen or hedonistic than the rest of the population, Harrah's contends.

Forty-four percent of gamblers said being a good parent coincided with their personal expression of success, compared to 40 percent of nongamblers.

Both gamblers and nongamblers volunteered time for social causes at the same rate, though a greater percentage of gamblers said they donated money to a social good.

Religion has always been a sticking point for the casino industry, whose most vocal critics are those who believe gambling - no matter how fancily it is packaged - is a sin. Harrah's didn't emphasize the results of several religion questions in their survey, which could be construed negatively.

About 24 percent of casino gamblers polled said "being true to God" coincided with success versus 38 percent of nongamblers.

Nongamblers seem more religious than gamblers. About 39 percent of gamblers said religion was very important in their lives, and 41 percent said it was fairly important. Among nongamblers, 49 percent said religion was very important and 32 percent said it was fairly important. One-fourth of U.S. adults - some 52.8 million people - visited casinos to gamble last year, the survey said. That's down from the estimate of 53.4 million people who visited casinos in 2003.

• • •

The shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos last week wasn't the first time New Jersey casinos have closed.

When Atlantic City casinos were legalized in 1976 and opened in 1978, they were required to shut down their floors in the wee hours of the morning to discourage binge gambling. New Jersey didn't introduce 24-hour gambling until 1991. By then, Nevada was ushering in a wave of modern megaresorts.

Dan Heneghan, the spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, was then a casino reporter at the Press of Atlantic City when he wrote that New Jersey's casinos "may never have to close their doors again."

Ironically, Heneghan was looking up that very article for a reporter just before he was furloughed from his job Wednesday morning - one of tens of thousands of public and private employees who aren't getting paid during the budget impasse.