Generational Trends in Gambling Habits

By Beverly Greer in Blog
| August 6, 2019 11:40 am PDT

Last month, my family went on a multi-generational family vacation that included everyone from my grandparents to my cousin’s two-year-old.

The only vacation that can interest people of all ages is a cruise, so that is what we did.

We did a few excursions together and ate meals together, but most of the time, we did things separately. My grandparents laid by the pool while my cousin and her children played on the waterslide, and I sang karaoke!

Fortunately, there was a casino on our ship that was open for most of the trip. It was a great place to hang out when we wanted a place to cool off and get away from the other cruisers.

I spent several hours playing my favorite casino games with my siblings, my parents, and my grandparents.

Our experiences in the casino made for some interesting conversations at dinner. For example, my mom complained about how much money she lost, and she got a little annoyed when I exclaimed that the only reason she had such poor luck was that she had been playing slots all day!

My comment led to a healthy debate amongst all of us about which were the best casino games to play.

The debate ended without us coming to a conclusion, but it got me thinking. I realized that my parents and uncles preferred the slot machines, while my grandparents played keno or bingo all day. My siblings joined me at the blackjack tables.

It made me wonder how generational differences affect gambling habits, so I did some research once we got back home.

I’m going to explain some of the most interesting facts that I found for each generation, but I also want to describe what gambling was like when they were growing up.

My research revealed that the cultural attitudes toward gambling and finances during their childhood and teenage years had a significant impact on each generations’ gambling habits today.

So, this blog is going to give you an overview of what life was like for each generation as well as gambling trends for each of those generations today.

The Silent Generation – 1925-1945

Time Magazine released an article in 1951 that referred to the children who were born during the Great Depression as the Silent Generation, but the author claimed that the name was already in use before that.

The name came from the fact that these children were raised with the mentality that children were “to be seen and not heard.”

They often worked more than they played, and they grew up with political tension that discouraged people from talking about their opinions.

Almost all forms of gambling were strictly outlawed while the Silent Generation was growing up.

Horse race betting was the only legal form of gambling, and even that was still prohibited in some states. Casinos were beginning to open in Las Vegas, but they were often associated with organized crime.

Gambling was considered sinful, criminal, and irresponsible.

Today, the Silent Generation is still the most morally opposed to gambling. According to a study conducted by St. Cloud State University, 32% of seniors say that they are opposed to gambling for religious or moral reasons.

Lotteries and raffle tickets are their most preferred form of gambling, with almost 40% of those surveyed saying that they had bought a lottery ticket within the past year.

On the other hand, less than 10% have played card games within the past year, and only about 2% had played craps or other dice games.

On average, about 63% of seniors from the Silent Generation participate in some form of gambling each year. That is ten to twenty percent fewer people than any of the other three generations that are included in this post.

When you consider how they grew up, it makes sense that the Silent Generation gambles less than the other generations. Most of them do not remember the Great Depression, but they were born in the midst of it, and its effects greatly influenced their childhood.

Their parents raised them to be cautious with money and to work hard so that they did not face the same struggles.

Then, World War 2 started, and they were too young to fight in the war but not so young that they couldn’t work in the factories.

These socio-political experiences shaped their view of gambling and money management.

The fact that there were no legal forms of gambling available means that they did not grow up seeing it as a form of entertainment.

Instead, they tend to view betting as sinful or immoral, but they can see the value in a lottery that raises funds for education and other civic services.

Because they were especially careful with their finances, this generation has more disposable income during their retirement, and they are willing to use it to have a little fun.

Baby Boomers – 1946-1964

Most people know that baby boomers were named because of the spike in birth rate that came after American soldiers returned from the war. The 76,000 baby boomers were the children born as a result of that record-high birth rate, and they were born into post-war America.

They benefitted from government subsidies in housing and education, and they grew up wealthier than any other generation before them.

Growing up with wealth and affluence gave the baby boomers an unprecedented sense of consumerism. They grew up getting more, so when they were adults, they were greedy for the next best thing.

Economists recognized the massive population increase as a chance for more business, so they immediately changed their marketing strategies to attract baby boomers.

These marketers convinced the boomers that they were a distinctive generation. Their idea that they were a special generation increased because they were the first generation to grow up with television sets, to send a man to the moon, and to be defined by political activism.

They were the rock-and-roll generation, and they wanted to make sure that everyone knew it.

The youngest baby boomers were born the same year that New Hampshire legalized the modern state-run lottery.

By the time they were coming of age, thirty-two states had authorized lotteries, and the Multi-State Lottery Association, MUSL, started.

Casinos were limited to Las Vegas, but the boomers brought casinos to Atlantic City in 1978. Horse racing was popular in most states, but it declined as the boomers aged.

Baby boomers were the first generation to challenge the religious traditions of their parents. They did not see gambling as sinful, and they rebelled against anything that told them they were not allowed to do something.

Growing up with a robust economy meant that they did not worry about the economic effects of losing money, so they planned trips to Las Vegas, where they focused solely on gambling.

Las Vegas responded to the demands of the baby boomers by creating casinos with more slot machines, expanded table games, and fewer distractions.

Modern-day casinos with fluorescent lighting and cocktail waitresses who come to take your order while you play are a result of the casinos catering to their baby boomer clientele.

As a result of their rebellious morality and prosperous economy, baby boomers are a generation that enjoys gambling. The same study that we mentioned above explained that 80% of baby boomers admit that they have gambled within the past year.

They prefer lotteries and local casinos, probably because they are convenient and readily available. In terms of particular games, baby boomers prefer slot machines and bingo to card games.

Another study found that baby boomers prefer games that are easy to understand, and they don’t like to wait for their preferred machine.

Generation X – 1965-1979

Once the older baby boomers grew up, they became a generation of working parents and changing social trends. More women joined the workforce than before, divorce was common, and the birth rate dropped when the birth control pill became available.

The children born in the midst of these changes later became known as Generation X. They were latchkey kids who grew up on MTV and grunge music.

Generation X grew up with a lot of instability. Government funding got taken away from programs that benefitted children and distributed to the elderly. Their society focused on the needs of adults more than those of children.

Divorce led to many children growing up with only one parent because joint custody was only legal in nine states. Working mothers left their children at home unattended because childcare was unavailable. They grew up during the time of the AIDS epidemic and the sexual revolution.

As a result of the civil rights movement, Gen Xers were the first generation to grow up in integrated schools, but the war on drugs and crack epidemic unfairly affected black communities.

As teenagers and young adults, they were considered cynical, unmotivated, and aimless.

But once they grew up, Generation X became a group of entrepreneurs that brought on the technological revolution. Businesses characterized them as a generation with a strong work ethic and people who are skilled problem-solvers. 

They focused on finding a work-life balance, and as a result, they are happier adults than other generations.

During their childhood, several states legalized lotteries, and for the first time, gambling was available outside of Las Vegas.

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and within a few years, 40 states had tribal casinos. Atlantic City became a casino empire throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, just as the Generation X kids were growing up.

The televised World Series of Poker in the early 2000s and expanded poker rooms in casinos created a poker frenzy that previous generations had not experienced.

Horse racing declined rapidly because Gen Xers had so many other gambling options that weren’t available to their parents. Sports betting was also popular when they were growing up, but by 1992, the only place that it was offered was Nevada.

Instead of traveling for the sake of sports wagers, they either stopped betting on sports or sought online alternatives.

Today, approximately 82% of Gen Xers gamble each year, and they are much more open to social bets and online gambling than the generations before them.

As a group, they do not oppose gambling on the grounds of morality or religion as much as their predecessors did.

They play card games more often than other generations, but they are not as opposed to slot machines as millennials are.

Their industrious entrepreneurship means that they are more financially stable, so they have more leisure money available to them, and they are not opposed to using it for gambling.

Millennials – 1980-1994

The millennial generation is surprisingly similar to the baby boomers, in some ways. They have been talked about as a distinctive generation for most of their lives, just like the baby boomers were.

Both generations actively rebelled against their parents’ lifestyles. And they are both generations of people who seek political change and vocalize their opinions.

But the two generations are also very different.

Baby boomers grew up in a time of prosperity, so they crafted a lifestyle of consumerism that left the environment depleted and the economy destroyed. They like to blame millennials for killing specific industries because the millennials don’t fit their economic expectations.

But the truth is that the millennials are just struggling to survive in the economy that their parents left for them.

For the first time in United States history, millennials entered adulthood in a worse economy than that of their parents. Student-loan debt, coupled with higher unemployment and fewer manufacturing jobs, created a crisis for millennials.

They have very little disposable income, and they are intentional with the money that they do have.

Almost the entire generation has an iPhone, so some people think that they are careless with their money. But millennials see things differently because they believe a smartphone is a necessary expense or an investment.

On the other hand, gambling is a leisure that they just can’t afford.

Millennials are a complicated generation because they grew up during the technological revolution. Some used rotary telephones when they were kids but had cell phones by the time they were teenagers. Dial-up internet and floppy disks are things that they remember, but they are also skilled at trouble-shooting Wi-Fi routers, USB devices, and cloud storage.

Most importantly, they were the first generation that grew up playing video games.

Statistics show that millennials are not as interested in gambling as older generations, and Las Vegas noticed this trend quickly. Only 21% of millennials consider gambling to be an essential activity, compared to more than 40% of other generations.

They spend only about 8.5% of their vacation budget on gambling, compared to 23.5% spent by older generations.

Casinos have had to adapt their strategies to attract millennials because they are just not interested in gambling for hours at a time.

One of the strategies that casinos are using to attract more millennials is to create other entertainment options. They host concerts, have night clubs with famous DJs, and offer fine dining and exclusive shopping malls that cannot be found elsewhere.

Las Vegas casinos, in particular, are trying to change their style so that they have something to offer that you can’t find at a nearby tribal casino. 

Video games are partially to blame for the fact that millennials are less interested in gambling. Compared to the high-quality graphics and action-packed nature of video games, slot machines are boring and a little disappointing.

Millennials also have the world at their fingertips with their smartphones. As a result, they are more aware of house advantages and the odds of winning than baby boomers were.

Slot machines have some of the worst odds in the casino, and millennials know that, so they tend to choose different games instead.

Casinos are trying to focus on adding more skill-based games because they know that millennials are not interested in games of chance. They are more willing to risk some of their money when they believe that they have some control over the outcome.

Millennials grew up watching the poker explosion of the early 2000s, and they appreciate that it requires some skill instead of pure luck.

Their gambling tendencies are proof that millennials are intentional about their economic choices. They are not morally opposed to gambling, but they are economically unable to spend their money frivolously.

As a result, they gamble less, and they choose their wagers wisely. Casinos that offer them more control or more opportunities to combine other forms of entertainment with gambling will be more successful than those that don’t.

Predictions for the Future

The lack of millennial gamblers has created a necessity for new forms of gambling that were not available before. Daily fantasy sports betting is a form of betting that is played exclusively online.

Esports offers a new kind of betting where players bet on people who are competing in video game tournaments.

Game developers are also creating new types of casino games that involve multiple players, problem-solving skills, and technology. Some of them are similar to video games, while others are a hybrid between video games and slot machines.

A few casinos, like the Cosmopolitan, are redesigning their casino floor to create social spaces.

In 2015, Nevada passed a bill that regulated new gambling devices that would be used to attract millennials. The games that are currently available in some casinos are just the beginning.

Online and mobile gambling are essential to attracting millennials, but it can be a double-edged sword. Millennials who gamble on their smartphones can play at online casinos anytime, and anywhere, so they don’t see the point in paying for an expensive trip to a brick-and-mortar casino.

Some casinos in Las Vegas are creating communal experiences in an attempt to attract those players by offering mobile gambling tournaments that you can compete in while you hang out at the pool.

Las Vegas and Atlantic City are both experimenting with new ideas to attract younger generations, and their efforts are sure to revolutionize the gambling industry.

Conclusion

It should go without saying, but there are always going to be outliers that don’t follow the trends of their cohort. This post covered the patterns that I can see among each generation, but they certainly don’t apply to everyone.

Even within my own family, I saw my siblings try out the slot machines, and I challenged my parents to games of poker while we were on our cruise.

That being said, it is probably about time that the gambling industry gets a facelift. Many of the casinos in Las Vegas have been the same since the 1980s, and they are going to have to update if they want to keep up with younger generations.

Leaders in the gambling industry should study the generational differences and conduct surveys to get opinions from millennials about how they can improve.

Looking forward, the iGeneration is just on the cusp of adulthood. Some of their experiences and mentalities will be similar to those of millennials, but they will also have their own perspectives.

Industries that want to survive upcoming generations will need to listen to those people.

If they don’t adapt, the industries will collapse, in the same way that horse and dog racing have.  

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