The Burger King Revolution

It’s a happy day in UNLV gaming-land. An article I wrote a while back about how Las Vegas bounced back from the 1980s recession is out in Gaming Law Review and Economics:

MOST WHO HAVE CONSIDERED Las Vegas history have concluded that not much happened in
Las Vegas gaming between the openings of the original MGM Grand (1973) and Mirage (1989). In fact, several structural changes during the 1980s had already reversed a declining appeal. Responding to three crises—competition from Atlantic City, a national economic downturn, and the MGM Grand fire—Las Vegas casino operators began to draw more extensively on a middle-class mass market. Capitalizing on the “Burger King Revolution,” Strip casinos drew more gamblers who, on average, played less, and slot machines displaced table games as the industry’s leading revenue producer. This successful strategy broadened the city’s visitor pool and created a base for later expansion.
The Burger King Revolution: How Las Vegas Bounced Back, 1983–1989

Enjoy reading it while you can–I think that the article’s only available to non-subscribers for 2 weeks. If you’re a casino professional, you should definitely consider a subscription to GLRE, since it’s packed with informative articles.

I didn’t do too many interviews for this article–I mostly used documents–but I’ve got to say that Jeffery Silver was great to talk to. He was not only an expert on the subject, but has a keen sense of humor and was remarkably generous with his time.

Author: Dave

Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of several books, including Roll the Bones: The History of Gaming. Also Gaming and Hospitality editor for Vegas Seven magazine.

8 thoughts on “The Burger King Revolution”

  1. This is an interesting article. I’d forgotten how dead Vegas was during the 1980s, but this article reminded me of some things.

    I remember what a huge effect the MGM fire had. It was one of the first major stories that was broadcast by the new CNN (Cable News Network). It was (in my mind, for its time) almost as shocking as 9/11 would later be. And then, about a month later parts of the Hilton caught on fire.

    Nobody wanted to go to Vegas to stay in a sky-rise at that time. It took a few years before modernized ‘fire-safety’ was eventually installed. Still. Sleeping above the 10th floor (where fire-truck ladders can’t reach) will always make me slightly nervous.

    Also. I’d forgotten (actually, never really thought about the 1980s impact of Atlantic City on LV).
    This Burger King concept (I suppose) means going for a mid-income demo. That sounds good to me and it surely can’t hurt to go after whatever demo is out there, today. Low, mid & high incomes. Make them ALL want to come to Vegas!!!

  2. Thinking back on it….the MGM fire was quite sensational…not only because it happened…but because that was a story that (for the first time) was able to be reported on 24 hours a day (by Cable News)…instead of like the earlier days of Network TV’s 30 minutes of nightly national news.

    I don’t think people usually consider things like ‘what media was available’ during any era, when they are contemplating historical events.

    In the early 80s the MGM story was a major thing.

  3. Maybe I’ve missed something, but it seems like the article is only available to subscribers even now, except for the first page.

  4. I’m able to view it from the link in the block quote without logging in–maybe that’s because UNLV subscribes. I’ve been able to read all the articles’ full pdfs. Let me know if you have any luck.

  5. I bet it’s because UNLV subscribes. I created an account, and when I try to access the PDF it says: You are already signed in as xxx, but your user account does not include a subscription for the requested content. In addition, no institutional (library) subscription was detected.

  6. Unable to access the article. Regrets.
    Based on the article’s first page though I do have one comment to make: If the casino’s chose a course of conduct which can be termed “The Burger King Solution” and consists of cramming the masses into the casino, then are not the casinos to blame for the resultant lack of business?

    Vegas now has a preponderance of one armed bandits and far fewer table games players and everyone seeks the lower denomination machines/tables.

    If we were to take 1960 figures and adjust for inflation: what SHOULD the table minimums be? The casinos chose a lower per-check total and they chose to focus on those who eat peanuts rather than caviar. So if the entire city made that choice, why are they now complaining about its effects?

    Resilency after the MGM Fire is great, but it should have involved training more craps players and it should have involved the guys who owned the auto repair shop, not the guys who worked there. Perhaps today’s headlines should read “Casino owners now laying in the beds they made after the MGM fire”.

  7. I remember reading somewhere that when the Mirage opened in 1989 the marquee at the Sands Hotel and Casino across the street said that the band Sha Na Na was playing there that night. Sha Na Na played music from the 1950’s and the early 1960’s. I googled Sha Na Na and they are still touring.

  8. I don’t think that the recently built casinos were intending to go after a ‘peanut eating crowd” at all. Isn’t the mistake that they are almost all going after the caviar eating, baccarat whales? And aiming their advertising at high-end, young, 20 year olds with rich parents? That sure seems to be what I’M seeing.

    I think it’s definitely time to aim for a mid-income crowd and re-populate the casinos and then just wait for them to eventually start opening their wallets wider.

    The New Vegas of 2010-2015 should definitely be a place that aims to attract the Average Joe. Their are too many ‘side businesses’ now (restaurants, shows and shops) to try filling just with high-enders.

    For the entire structure of Vegas (not only the casinos) to survive, it needs tons of people of whatever shapes, sizes and incomes to come here.

    As for 1960s table-minimums…and going back to the past…I’m all for that. That’s why I think someone should build an “Old Vegas Theme Park” (like right in a corner of the Wynn Golf Course property) filled with one story retro-casino simulations. Then fill it with high-limit table entries and hardly any slots. Make the whole place operate under 1958 policies and gaming methods.

    I wonder how that would fare.

    But like I said. Vegas needs EVERYBODY to come here. Low-mid-high. Come on out.

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