The Groupie Classes it Up

The Groupie Classes it Up

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Modern casinos need to step up to survive.

By Elena 'The Groupie' Stover.

In last month’s column, I outlined some things that a courteous gentleman can do to make women feel more comfortable at the poker table. Spending an evening in an “old boys club” is not an appealing prospect for most young women – or young men, for that matter! In this column, I’ll offer some suggestions on what casinos can do to make poker more attractive to a young and urban demographic, male or female.

1. Clean up the joint!

I started out playing poker online, and once I got comfortable enough I tried my hand at some live cash games in California. The first time I walked into a card room I was bursting with excitement to put my new skills to the test, but I was also kind of grossed out. Like most poker venues in America, my local card room was dated, dingy, garishly bright, and infused with a pervasive musty smell of sweat, cigarette smoke, stale beer, and probably plenty of things that we’d all rather not think about. The larger casinos that I’ve been to in Europe are much nicer and do not suffer from as many of these issues, but if your local card room sounds anything like the description above, read on.

What can card rooms do to be less gross and more appealing? For starters, clean the place. A lot! Hire more janitors. Monitor the bathrooms regularly. Install better ventilation. Don’t let people chain smoke right outside the entrance. Avoid carpeting and fabric chairs that absorb smells and spills. If you’re stuck with them, at least make sure the carpets and chairs are steam cleaned frequently and maybe replaced once in a blue moon.

When I began playing live I was willing to stomach being in an atmosphere that was physically repellent because I had a strong desire to improve my poker game. For other young people who might be nurturing a more casual interest in the game, a grimy poker room could prove to be an immediate and permanent turnoff. Providing a clean environment will increase the chances of new players venturing into the casino, and existing players will feel less frequent urges to run home and rid themselves of the stench.

2. Wine us and dine us

Young adults of the modern metropolis are accustomed to a wide variety of culinary options, but the hope of finding a decent dinner in a poker setting is often remote. Most card rooms tend to offer cheap and unhealthy fare similar to that of a truck stop diner. It’s not exactly fast food – it’s just bad food. Young people who play poker these days aren’t into the slobby unhealthy lifestyle, and they will pay more for quality food when it is made available. This can be seen clearly at the World Series of Poker every summer, where independent chef All-American Dave has created a wildly popular business selling healthy, organic meals for $25 a pop to players who were rightfully sick of the dismal food options at the Rio Casino.

An urban demographic also benefits from a full range of places to drink, from chic wine bars to throwback prohibition-era cocktail lounges. Casinos serve alcohol of course, but usually that’s about all you can say about it. Most provide a much more limited selection than they either could or should. If you’re not into hard liquor, it’s a choice between a few cheap domestic beers and a wine list that consists of “red” or “white.” Are we on an aeroplane? If a casino bar held itself even to the standards of your average neighborhood bar, you’d see a few more imported beers, local microbrews, and at least a couple of real wines that didn’t come from the discount shelf at the supermarket.

The bottom line is: casino food and drink offerings are sub-par, and there’s no reason it has to be that way. Casinos could serve better food, better beer, and better wine, and charge more for it accordingly; the younger and hipper crowd will appreciate having those options.

3. Cocktail hour!

In keeping with this theme, people like drinking fancy cocktails, and feeling fancy in general. Casinos used to be associated with glamour and intrigue, go-go dancers and James Bond, and sultry women in stiletto heels sipping martinis. You may not be in Monte Carlo, but one idea that could work in any local casino would be to have a cocktail hour in the poker room one night of the week. This could help give poker an air of elegance and counteract the “boys club” mentality, as women could make a night of it and get dressed up in their party shoes for some fun at the casino.

A similar idea would be a “ladies night” that offered incentives for women to show up and play, such as discounts on drinks, a freeroll tournament with prizes, or an informal group poker lesson. We know that many more women play online poker than live poker, so this is a huge untapped market of potential players. Right now these casual female players are either too disinterested or too intimidated to enter a live poker room, and casinos are doing themselves a disservice by failing to engage and market to this demographic.

4. Bar Bar Bar

I often find live poker isolating, because I always go to casinos alone. It would be fun if I could bring friends, but there simply isn’t anything to do in casinos for people who don’t gamble. This seems flawed to me.
Even if it’s not a Vegas megaplex, a local casino should still be a place where an adult can find some sort of amusement for a few hours. And in my milieu, craps tables and squawking neon machines that are trying to take your money do not equal entertainment.

What if the casino or card room were to have a bar area that actually felt like a bar? A classy, dimly-lit area where someone might want to go hang out even if they weren’t gambling, where they served decent drinks without a video poker screen blinking in your face? How about a jukebox, or even a DJ on popular nights? Making the casino bar an appealing place for people to spend time, instead of just being “the counter where they make the drinks in the casino,” would be a good step, and might bring in people who wouldn’t usually set foot inside a casino.

5. That’s entertainment

A more ambitious form of entertainment that I think could be really successful is live music. When they do this in Vegas casinos, it’s often some Britney Spears impersonator or generic tribute band playing bad 90s cover songs. I’m thinking something more old-school, like a jazz band with a soul singer playing old-time standards. Something that sets a mood; something that hearkens back to the days when casinos were actually glamourous, and people went there just to get dressed up and be there and take in the experience.

My final entertainment idea involves running more games that are not strictly about gambling, such as bingo, bar trivia, backgammon, shuffleboard, or even boardwalk games like whack-a-mole and skee-ball. There are bars in New York City that are popular for the sole reason that they contain shuffleboard and skee-ball machines, and these nostalgic games are doubly fun when you’re having a few pints with friends. I’m not suggesting turning the casino into a full-on arcade, but most people of my generation would be much happier to play Pac-Man than to mindlessly feed quarters into a slot machine.

Think I'm wrong? Got a better idea? Tweet me at @thegroupie.

Tags: Elene Stover, live poker, casinos, The Groupie