Las Vegas could find some reprieve in its struggling baccarat business with the help of three direct flights per week from China, writes James Walker.
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]evada-related gaming industry headlines at the beginning of May were dominated by
the state’s latest monthly revenue statistics: gross gaming revenues for casinos across the
region dropped three per cent to $922.2m (E802m) in April, as baccarat fell state-wide
and sportsbooks struggled to maintain reasonable holds on sports betting.
However, as analyst statements and op-eds relating to Las Vegas and the wider Nevada
casino market clogged up Google newsfeeds, one interesting snippet of news flew
(pardon the pun) largely under the radar – and that was the Civil Aviation Administration
of China having approved Hainan Airlines’ request to operate three direct weekly flights
from Beijing to Las Vegas.
Although the direct China-to- Vegas flights still need approval from the US government,
Union Gaming analyst John DeCree was quick to note that Las Vegas “could find some
reprieve in its struggling baccarat business” through the new airline route.
Conservative estimates suggest about 300,000 Chinese travellers are visiting Las Vegas
annually, according to Union Gaming’s note. These visitors, however, have to take more
than one flight and, as a result, are likely to spend less time in Las Vegas. “This limits
how much time and money a Chinese tourist could spend in Las Vegas,” DeCree said.
As the old cliché goes: the world is getting smaller. This is certainly true in the context of
the casino industry, where globalisation has not only facilitated the swapping of ideas to
create some of the most innovative products the market has ever seen, it has also opened
up a new world of opportunity for operators.
Air travel has changed from a luxury only the wealthy could afford in the 1950s and 60s
to something far more commonplace. As such, casinos around the world are jostling to
attract gamblers from Asia – the benefits of which have been seen in the balance sheet of
operators as far afield as Europe and North America.
Of course, Las Vegas is no stranger to private jets and VIP hospitality. Ultra-wealthy
Asian gamblers have been visiting the city for decades. However, Hainan Airlines’ move
to operate the direct flights between Beijing and Las Vegas would increase the viability of
the Silver State as a destination for China’s burgeoning middle class – and it may well
pave the way for rival airlines to follow suit.