About 80% of Asian-Americans gamble. That’s 7 percentage points more than the general US population. However, only 21% are doing so online, making them this the second-least represented demographic group. Only Black US gamblers are less likely to adopt the channel, with just 19% gambling online.
These numbers come from a recent National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) study. They may shock an industry used to seeing Asians and Asian-Americans highly represented among retail casino visitors. For instance, a study of Connecticut casinos in 2019 found that about 25% of patrons of Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun were of Asian descent.
Some caveats are necessary. NCPG’s research took place just before pandemic restrictions shut down land-based casinos. That event brought many people to online casinos who weren’t playing there previously. There are also many more states with legal online gambling now than there were at that time. Thus it’s possible that more Asian-American gamblers have joined the online ranks in the time since the NCPG conducted its survey.
All that said, it seems unlikely that Asian-American gamblers will have surpassed the online adoption rates of other racial and ethnic groups. This isn’t a small difference, but rather a gulf between Asian-Americans and the most represented demographics. White respondents topped the NCPG’s list, with 33% saying they gamble online.
Finding the target audience is tricky
Gamblers specialize. As much as marketers would love to convert retail casino gamblers to online casino gamblers, they’re different kinds of people. Many of the online gamblers who’ve signed up during the pandemic are new to legal online gambling. They will probably stay put on the sites they’ve found, like BetMGM Casino, DraftKings Casino and FanDuel Casino.
These online gamblers aren’t necessarily the same ones who frequented retail casinos before the prevalence of legal online gambling. One of the tricks of the trade for marketers is to be able to identify target audiences and reach them with appropriate, relevant messages. That’s a little difficult when marketers can’t identify the audience.
What retail casino marketing looks like
In the “before times,” as people refer to pre-pandemic days, US retail casinos openly marketed to Asian gamblers, particularly those from East and Southeast Asia. They even had marketing roles geared specifically towards reaching those customer segments.
To some extent, that strategy continues. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, MGM Resorts International posted a job listing for an “executive director of Asian marketing” in Atlantic City.
A search on LinkedIn shows these job titles aren’t unusual at land-based casinos in the US. One major reason for that, of course, is that mainland Chinese gamblers need to travel elsewhere in order to bet, because it’s illegal where they live. The Macau gambling scene is legendary for its high rollers.
That said, neither casino nor online gambling site representatives like to talk about how they market to Asian-Americans. Almost every profitable brand in any industry segments its audience and targets advertising and messaging accordingly. Gambling organizations house among the most skilled marketers in existence, and they’re loathe to reveal their secrets. Those we contacted – including MGM Resorts International, DraftKings, BetRivers and FanDuel – either declined to comment, or failed to respond altogether.
The perfect customer is hard to find
One marketing vendor was willing to share some insight, however.
Among the nearly 19 million people of Asian heritage who live in the US, Audience Acuity could only identify 165,123 Asian-American gamblers who it considers prime targets for marketing. These gamblers inhabit online and offline worlds, said Riad Shalaby, the company’s chief marketing officer. Audience Acuity specializes in finding valuable customers for online businesses in the new, mobile, cookie-less world.
Part of the reason for that low number is Shalaby’s Las Vegas-based “consumer identity management firm” allows members of its database of 237 million US adults to self-report their race or ethnicity. A little over half did so, representing about 39% of the total US population.
Among those 128 million Americans, only 165,123 self-identify as being both Asian-American, and in the group Shalaby determines to be the most desirable audience for gambling organizations. This, it defines as people who are 21 or older, earn at least $50,000 a year, have a net worth of $25,000 or more, can boast of credit ratings of 650 points or higher, and self-report having an interest in gambling.
There’s additional bad news for online gambling companies, specifically. Shalaby’s data show that many of these potential Asian-American customers live in California, where online gambling isn’t yet legal.
As for other potential gamblers segmented by race or ethnicity, the following potential gamblers meet Shalaby’s criteria:
- White: 4.3 million
- Hispanic: 327,341
- “Other”: 211,910
- Black: 108,435
Marketing based on ethnicity has its pitfalls
Despite the importance of Asian-American customers to retail casinos, it may not be a problem for the online gambling industry that its demographics are different. Shalaby cautions that stereotyping any group as a profit center is dangerous.
“While Asians are generally avid gamblers (I learned this firsthand while I was the SVP of marketing at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore) I would not tie profitability – singularly – to ethnicity. Profitability is more complex and involves other variables, like game types and preferences, geographic location and proximity to gaming establishments, customer counts, age, income, demographics – many things.”
Audience Acuity, for instance, can use “more than 500 descriptive variables to segment an audience and micro-target audiences across channels and devices,” Shalaby said. Race and ethnicity are just two of those variables.
Understanding the customer
“Retail casinos and online gambling entities have databases of customer information,” Shalaby explained. “Apps, especially, have emails. Casinos have excellent transactional data – and transactional data is important.
“That said,” he continued, “it is very difficult for casinos to collect accurate behavioral and channel data. And this data is very important to driving online engagement. Casinos are just learning how to cost-effectively engage online – to create seamless omnichannel experiences.”
It’s important to learn who customers are before messaging them, he said. No group is a monolith. For instance, a 35-year-old millennial who’s been playing video games for 20 years is a digital native. That person may be Asian-American, but his age may be the more important factor. He’s far different from “a 65-year-old slot player” who will check her point balance online, “but still wants to go to the property and eat at the buffet,” according to Shalaby.
Online gamblers: Young men, mostly white or Latino
That makes sense, because the median age of an online gambler is 34. Poker and sports betting are both have demographics that skew younger than those for casino products.
The NCPG research stated:
“Race or ethnicity does, however, appear to be related to online gambling participation, with Whites and Latinx approximately 50% more likely to participate than Blacks, Native Americans or Asian Americans. Two-thirds of online gamblers (67%) are male, which may be a consequence (or a cause) of the availability of sports betting and poker.”
That said, Asian-American gamblers are avid poker players and sports bettors, NCPG found. About 33% of Asian-American gamblers responding to the survey said they enjoyed traditional sports betting, which was 50% higher than participation rates among white and Native American gamblers (19%).
NCPG said the participation rates among Asian-Americans in this sports betting vertical may be higher because the population, as a whole, is younger than the white population. Census figures show the median age of white Americans is 41 and that of Asian-Americans is 38.
So why do Asian-Americans prefer to gamble offline?
NCPG also cautions that sports bettors are more apt to be problem gamblers than the standard gambler. What’s more, Asian-American problem gamblers may be less likely to seek treatment. About 29% of Asian-Americans asked about their attitudes toward problem gambling said it shouldn’t be discussed outside the family. Thus, NCPG concludes that any awareness and prevention efforts need to “consider cultural differences in receptivity to treatment.”
Treating the entire family for an individual’s addiction is culturally relevant to Asian-Americans, who are more family- and community-oriented, Agnes Constante of NBC News reported in February.
Asian-Americans are so family- and community-oriented that many gathered during the pandemic against public health advisors’ cautions. That may happen again during Lunar New Year, when gambling activity is also expected to rise.
“During Lunar New Year, it can be considered taboo not to gamble.”
This social preference among some Asian-Americans to gamble in groups or with family may also be why gambling is more likely to remain a predominantly offline activity for that demographic.