Impact of Gambling on Tourism

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Casinos are continuing to make the news this year, although the headlines are looking a little different in 2020. Revenue is down for many locations dependent on gambling or travel and as coronavirus restrictions vary with fluctuating outbreaks, that doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.

Pre-COVID, casino construction was still going strong with areas worldwide building and expanding in an attempt to bring in tourist profits. But there’s some debate as to whether this boosts tourism and helps stimulate local economies or not. Now that existing casinos are feeling the pressure, authorities should take a closer look at how destinations like this are affecting their communities and how these industries are going to serve them best going forward in a changing world.

Drawing the Crowds

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Bright lights, loud sounds, and big crowds–the allure that brand name casinos have built over the years conjures the idea of an audience, one that pays for a specific atmosphere. The United States and Australia have both poured millions in resources into expanding on the casino front with the hopes of attracting that audience.

Unfortunately, there’s no real certainty that establishing this kind of industry does draw in tourists. If anything, examining places where casinos have a lot of influence on tourism helps break down how subjective that success can be.

Hard Evidence

The popularity of casino development is a relatively new and still-growing market. But there is little in the way of actual numerical evidence to justify the financial commitment some communities are willing to devote to try and bring in tourists and other perceived benefits. Most times, results are varied.

No Guarantees

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When urban centers acquire casinos they often end up competing with other tourist attractions within the areas, like historic landmarks, museums, and cultural locations. Casinos are a much less popular tourist destination for visitors in cities like this, so the majority of customers end up being locals.

More sparse places might find more success because of the limited entertainment options. In Deadwood, SD tourists from the surrounding states come to the former mining town to play at one of the 25 casinos still in operation. Other rural regions are even bringing casino games and slot machines into less conventional settings, like gas stations and bars, where they typically don’t see much use from tourists.

In places where large casinos are built, employment as part of the local economy is also a variable. Unemployment usually does not increase but depending on what kind of job openings become available and what the existing skill set of the area is, there are a few different possible scenarios. There is the possibility that the introduction of a casino could cause other local businesses to close and trigger dismissals, raising local unemployment. Or maybe the casino might hire within the community, decreasing unemployment rates. There’s the possibility that the casino has to hire outside abroad to fill the positions, leaving local employment unchanged. But new residents or commuters could stimulate other local businesses. These are all things that could happen, depending on the region, the casino, and many other variables.

The Right Conditions

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If enough casinos survive in one area, sometimes it can create a unique kind of tourist destination.  A handful of resort cities with big reputations have become popular getaways in the gambling industry. Places like Las Vegas and Macau have built their local economies around hosting mega-casinos, becoming tourist hot-spots worth billions of dollars in revenue each year.

Accessibility and Change

Part of the success both Las Vegas and Macau have found is establishing casino entertainment near places where gambling was — and, in the case of Macau, still is — illegal. Las Vegas legalized gambling in 1931 when the pastime was still illegal in most of the United States and held a monopoly on the activity for decades. Macau is a destination getaway for those from mainland China, where gambling is not allowed.

Other casino locations operate with this same strategy in mind, and with quite a bit of success. Resorts and casinos that operate on reservations see many tourists from nearby areas where there is no gambling. In New York, gamblers would cross the border into Canada to play at Niagara Falls or go to some of the casinos in nearby Ontario.

Now, governments around the world are starting to take another look at gambling laws as online gambling becomes more popular–and more complicated. It’s more accessible than ever for players to find casino games on sites like Betsafe Live Casino that operate out of Sweden and can serve Canadian customers for sports betting, but the law leaves too much room for ambiguity. The Criminal Code simply was not written with consideration for the internet. Just like those laws, many mega-casinos were not built with internet gambling in mind, either. With no genuine evidence that brick and mortar casinos bring economic stability, what kind of changes are they prepared to make to serve their communities and compete with the accessibility of online gambling?