Adults-Only Casinos: Short-Term Experiment Or Long-Term Trend?

Circa opened and Cromwell reopened in Las Vegas last week, and neither property is letting kids in the door
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The most commonly used nickname for Las Vegas is “Sin City,” and since 2003 the gambling town’s travel slogan has been “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” You would think that for families planning a vacation that includes the kids, a place with those credentials wouldn’t jump to the top of the list.

Still, teens, tweens, and toddlers have always been welcome in Vegas for those parents who want to bring them.

Until now.

Last week, in a span of 34 hours, two separate Las Vegas casinos opened (or reopened) their doors only to those age 21 or over. At both the new Circa Resort & Casino in downtown Vegas and at The Cromwell on The Strip, there are strict no-kids-allowed policies.

While different casinos have different rules about how close minors can get to gaming tables and machines, outright banning them from a property is an entirely new development. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that two casino-hotels are doing it at once. More likely, Cromwell executives learned of Circa’s plans and were inspired to copy-paste the idea.

Either way, an unusual and challenging time in the business world is being met with an innovation in Las Vegas that the entire gaming industry will surely watch closely.

Flashback to a backlash

The only time in modern history in which something like this was attempted in Vegas was in 1999, when Bellagio banned strollers, thus limiting the presence of younger children in the casino. Some supported the rule, but there was also a significant backlash, and after less than a year the policy was rescinded.

Anthony Curtis, the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and one of world’s foremost experts on Vegas, told US Bets that he has seen no such negative reaction to what’s happening at Circa, which drew a healthy sports betting crowd for its first NFL Sunday, or at Cromwell.

“It’s been the opposite — no backlash whatsoever,” Curtis said. “Monitoring what we hear from our customers, people are really in favor of it. Just like there’s a big group of people who hate smoking in casinos and they start jumping up and down and doing cartwheels whenever a new no-smoking policy is announced, there’s a smaller group like that of people who hate children being in casinos. There are people that are like, ‘This is for adults, I didn’t come here to have a bunch of rugrats running around my feet.’

“It’s much different from the Bellagio thing about 20 years ago. Bellagio had just opened up a few months earlier and everybody wanted to see it. They wanted to walk through. That was a must-do on the itinerary back then, and all these families couldn’t get in and go through. It was a different time and a different set of circumstances. At Circa and Cromwell now, these two places have gotten pretty much nothing but applause.”

Vegas has had its moments of skewing in the opposite direction, trying to present itself as more family-friendly. For example, MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park opened in 1993, but the family-friendly push flopped and the theme park closed in 2002. Since then, Las Vegas has mostly embraced its identity as a place for adults — albeit one where people were welcome to bring the kids along to soak in the sights, sounds, and sensory overload.

Why go adults-only now?

In front of the Nevada Gaming Commission in September, Circa owner Derek Stevens explained that one of the reasons for the adults-only concept was so that once in the casinos, patrons wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of ID checks at bars or anywhere else. They would be carded at the casino entrance, and that would be the end of that.

While saving those 15 seconds of inconvenience is likely a plus for some customers, it’s hard to believe it could serve as a primary factor.

“I think there were two prevailing reasons,” Curtis said. “The lesser of the two, probably, is establishing a vibe that this is a really slick, cool resort for adults. I keep making comparisons to the Palms, because I see a lot of similarities there. The Maloofs didn’t ban kids, but theirs was definitely an adult-centric approach, with all the nightclubs and everything else. And Derek is, I think, going for the same thing, starting with the amazing swimming area.

“The second reason to open an adults-only casino is everybody’s looking for ways to tighten up right now. They’re asking, ‘Where does the money come from? Who are the best customers? We’re going to cater to them.’ And certainly, adults who are alone and have cash to spend on themselves are a better generator of revenues right now than families. I think he looked at it from a monetary standpoint and said, ‘What are these families really going to do for us?’”

Curtis sees the same factors motivating Cromwell — and they might even be amplified there.

“It was an interesting move for Circa; it was an excellent move for Cromwell,” he opined. “Cromwell is an absolute no-brainer. That place has absolutely zero for kids. I don’t know if I ever saw a kid at Cromwell. So they get some publicity for the move, and they’re giving up nothing as they reopen for the first time since the shutdown.”

Circa, Cromwell, and copycats

What works for Circa and Cromwell won’t necessarily work for everyone. As Nevada-based professor, author, and gaming historian David Schwartz told Casino.org, the adults-only concept has a much better chance of succeeding at a smaller property than at a larger resort with many thousands of hotel rooms. “It’s a small enough property,” Schwartz said of Circa, which has 512 rooms. The boutique Cromwell hotel consists of just 188 guest rooms.

Also, what’s working right now, with travel limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, might not be quite as all-upside-no-downside when Vegas resorts return to something close to 100% occupancy.

“Right now, if nothing else, it’s a great situational play,” Curtis said. “And what happens later, well, anybody can adjust anytime.”

Curtis describes Las Vegas as “as copycat a town as there ever was,” so other casinos will be watching the impact at Circa and Cromwell and might consider following their leads. Might we see not just two adults-only casinos in the city, but maybe five or 10? Might we see a whole adults-only “district” develop across a couple of downtown blocks or on a section of the Strip?

And taking it a step further, might we see it attempted anywhere else in the U.S.?

Las Vegas obviously makes the most sense, where two casinos can go adults-only and folks bringing kids can still find about 60 alternatives in the area. But maybe one of the 11 casinos in Biloxi, Miss., could give it a try. Or one of the nine casinos in Atlantic City. Ocean Casino Resort, when it originally opened there in 2012 as Revel, bucked the trend by banning smoking. While Ocean has been doing relatively well of late and doesn’t necessarily need to shake things up at the moment, there is a historical willingness at the property to differentiate from the crowd.

For now, the adults-only casino concept stands at a count of two, allowing it to straddle the fence separating “oddity” from “trend.” It makes sense in this time and place. But the name “Circa” suggests something that’s of a specific time period, and it might turn out this emerging approach amounts to nothing more than that.

Photo by Shutterstock.com

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