[lg policy] Nevada: Casino Town Puts Its Money on Hispanic Market

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 30 15:57:53 UTC 2011

August 29, 2011
Casino Town Puts Its Money on Hispanic Market

PRIMM, Nev. — For decades, a patch of casinos on the western edge of
Nevada has relied on geography to lure California gamblers reluctant
to drive the extra 45 miles for the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas.
But as the economy took a dive, this desert spot suffered the same
economic woes as its larger, flashier neighbor. And the troubles were
exacerbated by the proliferation of Indian casinos in California,
which offered much of the same attractions as any town in Nevada. The
company that ran the trio of casinos here declared bankruptcy in 2009.

Now Primm Valley Casino Resorts is betting that aggressively courting
Latinos in Southern California will help lead to success.
They have blackjack games with bilingual dealers and rules printed in
Spanish on the tables, the first casinos in the state to do so. Last
year, they began a series of concerts featuring popular
Spanish-speaking musicians, which fill the arena to capacity nearly
every time. On those weekends, the casino floor of Buffalo Bill’s
buzzes with an energy that executives say rivals New Year’s Eve.

“People have always said things like, ‘That demographic doesn’t
gamble,’ ” said Jay Thiel, the vice president of casino operations,
who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years. “But we looked
around one day and realized that that’s who was here. We had no idea
how wrong that idea was.”  If any Latino organizations see a downside
to this, they have not spoken out. Many Latino leaders say they are
delighted with the attention to Hispanic consumers and have not
expressed fears about introducing gambling into their lives.

Mary Cuadrado, an associate professor of criminal justice at
University of Texas at El Paso who has studied Latinos’ seeking
treatment for gambling addiction, said, “The issue is not that people
are going to become suddenly addicted, but there is evidence that
Latinos are less likely to look for treatment if they do have a
problem.”  Stuart Richey, the assistant general manager and vice
president for marketing at Primm Valley, said that while it had
marketed to other niche demographics, like country music fans and
retirees, “no other group has inspired this much change in the way we
do business. The impact is really just staggering.”

When Espinoza Paz, a Mexican pop singer and composer, played to a
nearly sellout crowd last weekend, every one of the resort’s 2,600
rooms was booked.

“People in Vegas would kill for those numbers,” Mr. Richey said.

The ways that the hotel has shifted to cater to that market can be
spotted everywhere — there are countless signs in Spanish: “Juegue
blackjack en su idioma,” one announces — “Play blackjack in your
language.” Another wishes diners “buen provecho.” Managers are trying
to find more dealers who speak Spanish, so they can teach those more
comfortable with slots how to put down at least $5 a hand at a card
table. The casino bar band has conga drums and roaming cocktail
waitresses offering shots of top-shelf tequilas.

“It feels comfortable here, like we’re welcome and we belong,” said
Pascual Campos, 45, who came from Palmdale, Calif., with his mother,
his cousin, his wife and their two children. “I don’t pay for rooms, I
don’t pay for meals, I don’t pay for concerts. I just pay to play 21.
They treat me like a king for that. Of course I want to come back.”

Many of the guests coming in for the weekend were something of
regulars. Like its counterparts in Las Vegas, the hotel tries to
cultivate a kind of loyalty among gamblers by offering free meals,
rooms and other perks to those who spend the most money. Here, someone
who spends $1,000 in a weekend is seen as a high roller. In Las Vegas,
that kind of spending would not even catch a pit boss’s eye. Clearly,
one of the main goals of the marketing is getting people through the
casino doors who might not otherwise be there, or at least not as

While the casino has put considerable effort into the Spanish-speaking
tables, the slots are the game of choice here. There are scores of
penny slots. “You don’t need to spend a lot of money to win,” said
Lourdes Peña, 26, sounding like a commercial for the casino as she
instructed her friend Maria Ramirez, 24 and a gambling rookie, to
stick with two slot machines at a time.

But there are times when gambling can feel beside the point. Children
run freely through a video arcade, the line for the buffet stretches
100 people back and the area around the bar becomes an impromptu dance
floor. Nobody seems to mind.

The moments before the concert began looked like something like a
multigenerational fashion show — little girls in sparkling lacy
dresses, women in figure-flaunting dresses and stilettos, men in
rhinestone-encrusted belts and pointy snakeskin boots (the same kind
Espinoza Paz favors). The elderly women using canes and wheelchairs
donned perfectly pressed pantsuits.

The crowd screamed out the lyrics along with the singer, and he was
soon taking dozens of adoring fans onstage. A couple of especially
eager women tossed their undergarments to him, prompting the singer to
invite them onstage and croon a few bars to them. There were more than
a few infants in the arms of their mothers, who eagerly danced to the
band, which included a robust horn section.

The first time the casino executives saw this kind of crowd last fall,
they were taken aback. That concert, which featured the Mexican
country singer Ramon Ayala, has taken on almost legendary status among
the executives. None of them had even heard of the accordion-wielding
singer, but the show drew a sellout crowd. More than three quarters of
the casino’s slot machines were occupied — more than double a usual
“good night,” Mr. Richey said.

As the show ended Saturday night, dozens of fans stayed inside the
arena to pose for pictures with the performer, who was happy to
oblige. But the bigger crowd was already back in the casino. Within a
few minutes, the slot machines that had sat unoccupied for the last
couple of hours were all filled. The visitors, now lubricated with a
few more shots of tequila, were eagerly feeding the slots.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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