COVID-19 has certainly triggered some pretty drastic changes to the casino floor over the past year. Many casinos started by turning off every other machine, but over time I’ve noticed more and more take more unique steps to maximize the casino floor’s potential.
Two casinos near me have taken older machines and put them between the newer ones, so they can have more newer machines on. Many have taken big banks of machines and replaced them with machines in the round where social distancing can be done more easily without having to turn games off.
Interestingly, COVID-19 has accelerated a trend that many casinos, especially in more saturated markets, had been participating in: Reducing slot density on their casino floors.
Over time, casinos had already been airing out their floors to some degree, replacing densely bunched machines in rows with more smaller clusters or machines placed in a circle.
It may sound counterproductive – wouldn’t more machines encourage more gambling? But have you ever noticed how most casinos have groups of slots that sit idle, even in busier times? Even with many casinos seeing half or more of their machines turned off, revenues didn’t drop by half. So perhaps they didn’t need that many machines to begin with.
And by replacing long rows with smaller carousels, casinos also don’t have to buy as many machines to have a full casino floor, which has been an obvious result of some of the changes I’ve seen – one casino removed banks of machines that were 12-16 in a row with two carousels of 3-4 slots – in the same space, they have roughly the same machines available as every other machine, but have half as many machines to maintain.
Many of the banks getting removed are ones that I didn’t see a ton of action on either, so this allows casinos to save some money on how many new machines they’re buying, while also making the most of the new machines by not having to turn half of them off, which was what I was seeing at the beginning.
I expect even after we get through the worst of COVID-19 and social distancing rules are relaxed, that some of these changes will become more permanent. After all, there are machines in some casinos that have not moved an inch in a decade or more, and as casinos prove they can do more with less, and they work to keep expenses down after a tough period, there’s no reason to fill the room with a ton of machinery.
The exception to this may be casinos that are in the midst of big expansions, in markets that are still growing, or where new casinos open up. When MGM Springfield opened up, they packed the space with slots. But even one year in, they had already begun the process of adding some air to various pockets of the casino floor.
I personally welcome this change, as casinos with some more room to breathe have always been a bit more enjoyable for me, whether it’s getting away from smokers on floors with smoking allowed or just looking to have a bit more room to work with. I also think this last year of more social distancing may reset how some feel about close proximity to strangers all the time, at least for awhile.
With slots many times being a pretty solitary game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these changes be standard practice for casinos going forward.