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When gambling isn't a sure bet for Las Vegas

Gambling on the Las Vegas strip is no longer a guaranteed jackpot for casinos
Las Vegas reinvents itself for younger audience 04:15

This piece originally aired on Nov. 4, 2014.

In 1995 when the movie "Casino" hit theaters, keeping gamblers playing was the cardinal rule in Las Vegas, but that's no longer the case.

Gambling revenue on the Strip was down 12 percent in September -- the second straight monthly drop. Now, Las Vegas is once again reinventing itself with a new generation in mind, and for them, gambling is not the primary draw to Sin City, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Las Vegas, Nevada construction site

One sprawling construction site on the Las Vegas strip isn't for a casino at all; it's for a new 20,000-seat concert arena and a multimillion park -- a place to take a stroll when you're no longer on a roll.

"These indoor-outdoor spaces are really the future of Las Vegas, so that's what we're accomplishing here," MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren said.

His company is working on the new projects between its "New York, New York" and "Monte Carlo" resorts. They've also turned the fronts of their casinos into pedestrian friendly hangouts.

When Murren began his career in Vegas, he never thought he'd be so focused on outdoor dining and parks.

"The casino design of 20 years was all inward facing," he explained. "You wanted to suck people in and keep them in and that is the opposite of what we're doing now."

Las Vegas Strip at night from the Bellagio Brian Jones

At the other end of the Strip, Caesars spent half a billion dollars building "Linq," an outdoor space home to the tallest observation wheel in the world. It's called the High Roller.

All of this is to keep Vegas relevant, especially with the millennial generation that's more likely to be found dancing in state of the art nightclubs or singing at music festivals than playing the same old craps.

"They're having fun," Murren said. "They may or may not gamble at all."

At this point, "a dollar is a dollar" Murren said. He doesn't care if a customer comes for a weekend of gambling or if they're doing other things, as long as they're spending money.

Unlike Atlantic City's nearly abandoned boardwalk, Vegas is on a hot streak.

The city is on pace to welcome a record 40 million visitors this year. Their average age dropped, however, from 50 in 2009 to 45.8 last year. New and smaller hotels catering to the young crowd are opening on the Strip, each one hoping their club scene is the hot new thing. Even the famed fountains of Bellagio are now dancing to the beat of DJ Tiesto.

"They went from Las Vegas being about going to see Frank Sinatra and then playing craps and you're watching the show, to going to a nightclub, taking a selfie, putting it up on Twitter or Instagram, and you being the show," University of Nevada Las Vegas director of the Center for Gaming Research David Schwartz said.

In other words, millennials will spend thousands of dollars on booze, but not on bets.

In the 1990s, 58 percent of a Las Vegas resorts' revenue came from gambling. Last year it was just 37 percent. So the industry is now trying to increase the odds that millennials will gamble. Slot machines are being re-branded with popular TV and movie titles and what was once video poker now looks more like a video game.

David Chang, chief marketing officer for Gamblit, a gaming company focused on millennials, said young people are used to playing games for free on their phones so gambling is not the draw.

"The game is entertaining in and of itself," he said. "The gambling part of this is part of the entertainment, but not the main focus of the entertainment."

One part that isn't much of a focus for millennials, according to Chang, is slot machines.

"Slot machines are really, really, really great entertainment experiences for a different demographic," he said. "Older people."

For now, Vegas is betting the house that this younger generation will continue to flock to Sin City.

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