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Gamblers Moving From Table Games To Slots

December 20, 1993

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Gamblers, participants in the nation’s fastest growing form of recreation, are deserting craps and blackjack tables in droves and heading for the slot machines.

The casino industry, which rakes in hefty profits from the one-armed bandits, is quietly cheering the trend. But sociologists and gaming opponents warn of bleak consequences.

″Video poker machines are like the crack of cocaine,″ said Arnie Wexler, head of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. ″The video machines that the kids are playing with are a natural for going on to video poker. It’s such a natural progression.″

In Atlantic City, slot machine revenues made up 42 percent of casino takes in 1981, bringing in $466 million. In 1992, the figures were 66 percent or over $2 billion, and for the first nine months of 1993, 67 percent or $1.7 billion.

Nevada officials report the same trend, with a breakdown of about 65 percent of revenues from slots and 35 percent from table games. In some Nevada towns, the ratio is 83 percent to 17 percent.

Experts cite several reasons for the increase, including improved technology that has made slot machines more attractive and an increase in the numbers of women and younger people playing. In Atlantic City, rule changes last year allowed casinos to increase floor space for slots to 75 percent from about 55 percent.

They also say many craps and blackjack players learned the games on street corners and in back alleys during the 1940s, and the skills aren’t being passed on. In addition, men no longer see slots as just a women’s game.

But the trend isn’t hurting casinos, which make about 2.5 times more on slots than on tables, said Tom Shandell, gaming analyst for Bear, Sterns & Co.

″You go where the market is,″ Shandell said. ″The middle-market player can play longer at a slot machine than at a table game. The middle-market player gets nervous when there are other people at the table depending upon their action.″

Edward C. Cialella, who teaches recreation and leisure at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., said the trend reflects an unwillingness to spend time and effort learning new skills.

″You don’t need much intellectual acumen to push a button on a slot machine,″ Cialella said. ″The games themselves will become all electronic. You’ll still be able to play craps and blackjack but it’s going to be done with a screen as opposed to with live people.″

Slot machines, luring the TV generation with their bells, whistles and flashing lights, will create more compulsive gamblers, Wexler contends.

″They end up sitting in front of the machine, just mesmerized by it and its quick fast action - and they’re destroying themselves,″ said Wexler, who speaks around the country on compulsive gambling.

William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Reno in Nevada, said slot fever could doom full-service gambling towns over time as players are able to head for the nearest tavern or arcade to drop a few coins.

″In spite of the fact that the economics are going the other way, it’s in the long-term enlightened self-interest of the industry to preserve table games,″ Eadington said.

Substantial investment in table games might be necessary, he said.

But casino representatives say attempts to draw new players to the tables, such as special teaching games, have failed.

″It never works. It’s just a way for people to pass the time,″ said Trump Plaza president Kevin DeSanctis.

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