The trend of PA casinos reducing the number of slot machines on their floors continues. Rivers Casino Pittsburgh is the latest casino to share their plan to remove almost 100 of the games.
Like the other casinos that have done so, Rivers management cited simple economics and guest comfort as the rationale. But concerns over PA’s unregulated “skill based” game machines continue to be part of the conversation.
At the PA Gaming Control Board meeting on Nov. 16, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh requested approval for removing 97 of their machines, pointing to three main reasons to remove them.
- Game manufacturers have stopped supporting the hardware and software on the machines.
- Newer machines are larger and taller, so the casino needs space to create openness and maintain sight lines on the gaming floor.
- It costs the casino money to continue maintaining the under-performing machines.
Rivers Pittsburgh joins other PA casinos in reducing slot machines
The average age of the machines to be removed is 12 years. Removing the 97 slots would leave 2,324 machines available on the game floor. It was also pointed out that Rivers Casino Pittsburgh is reinvesting $4.5 million to purchase new slot machines this year.
In addition to creating room for better performing slot machines, part of the casino’s goal is to create a more comfortable environment for guests. The casino is moving away from long, straight rows of machines, instead opting for smaller groupings and carousel arrangements. The smaller arrays of machines create more desirable end seats and fewer unused middle seats.
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh assistant general manager, Andre Barnabei, told the PGCB, “Adding more carousels and smaller banks of machines allow our guests easier access and provides more personal space for comfort while gaming.”
Rivers slot machines are never fully occupied
The casino records slot machine occupancy rates every hour. In a presentation to the PGCB, Barnabei shared information collected over a one-year period from July 2021 to June 2022.
- Slot machine occupancy peaked at 72%.
- Every day there were at least 715 machines unoccupied.
- At the average peak occupancy on weekends, more than 1,400 machines were not being utilized.
The casino does not expect to lose any revenue due to removing the machines. Barnabei said that if the proposal is approved, they would like to remove them by the end of the year.
Skill games remain a thorn in the side of the PA casino industry
The PGCB meeting didn’t conclude without broaching the perennial issue of skill games. A representative from the Office of Enforcement Council stated that skill games have been brought up by each casino that has requested approval for slot reductions, and that their effect on casino revenues “appears to be an issue.”
When asked if he believes that skill games affect the revenue of casino slots, Barnabei said he had no data to prove it, adding, “I believe there would be an impact.”
But the concern over the games encroaching on casino revenue persists despite the lack of hard evidence to support it.
John Donnelly, a lawyer for Rivers casinos, said it’s clear to him that the games are gambling machines, and calling them skill based is “completely wrong.”
“We don’t have any specific statistics and it may be impossible to get statistics because I’m not sure anyone can calculate what kind of revenues are going to these non-regulated places. By having more of these machines out there throughout the Commonwealth, that’s not increasing the pie; that’s cutting into the pie.”
Donnelly added that the revenue from skill-based machines doesn’t support job creation, the horse racing industry and local communities like casino slot revenues do.