Gone are the days when Silicon Valley twentysomethings dropped tens of millions of dollars on the high-end tables of South Strip casinos, their fortunes disappearing like so many failed dot-coms.
The big-time bettors of currency crisis-plagued Brazil and Argentina have evaporated with the value of their bank accounts.
The premium gamblers of the economically troubled countries of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand are slowly returning to the desert city, although their numbers remain down from a decade ago.
That leaves the booming economy of mainland China to mint the freshest millionaires for the Strip’s ultra-chic salon prives.
It’s a troubling dynamic for a town that is largely dependent upon cocky free-spenders to bet big bucks against the house.
“Portfolio wealth has been damaged globally. There’s a lot of paper UFABet wealth that’s diminished,” said University of Nevada, Reno professor Bill Eadington.
Nevada casinos saw their take from baccarat — the favorite card game of Asian high rollers — fall 28.7 percent to $375.5 million during the 12 months ending June 30, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. That followed a 10 percent decline to $526.7 million in the 12 months preceding June 2001.
Overall, Nevada’s 342 casinos saw their haul from gamblers fall 3.7 percent for the budget year to $9.3 billion, with the Strip’s take dropping 7 percent to $4.5 billion.
“After September 11 they were filling hotel rooms with slot players as opposed to high-end table games players,” said control board statistical analyst Frank Streshley.
To be certain, the Strip’s high-end casino tables continue to make money from wealthy bettors — just at a more modest level.
“We still don’t have a lot of the high-end people coming back,” Streshley said.
The fortunes of the Strip’s lavish gambling parlors are largely dependent upon jet-setting casino marketers who move about a tight-lipped world of overseas trips, wild dinner parties and one-on-one relationships.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, international high-roller travel to Las Vegas plummeted nearly 75 percent. Domestic high-end travel fell by half.
Yet, the biggest of the big gamblers — with $300,000-plus credit lines, who make average minimum bets of $6,000 a hand, 12 hours a day for three days a pop — have largely returned.
“If you look at the very high end of our business, it’s very good,” said one Strip casino marketer, who requested anonymity.
It’s the next tier down where the drop-off is found.
The gambler with the $50,000 to $300,000 credit line, who bets at least a $1,000 a hand over three days, has grown skittish.
Like anyone who monitors the mania that is today’s financial markets, premium gamblers are worried about their investment portfolios.
“There’s less people with less discretionary income on the high side,” the marketer said. “Everybody is skeptical with the marketplace, even though I believe we’re doing better than we projected.”
The troubles …