LAS VEGAS (AP) - Spanish-language tables are becoming the norm in casinos along the California-Nevada border, where gambling executives eager to increase revenues try to lure Latinos with bilingual employees and big acts from Mexico.
"People want to play at the Spanish tables because they can see them having fun," Maria Macedo, a Cuban-born table games supervisor at Buffalo Bill's casino in Primm, told the Las Vegas Sun. "They didn't want to sit with the serious people."
Primm Valley Resorts, which operates the three border resorts, have long been a budget roadside attraction for Californians traveling to Las Vegas. They have been hit hard by an economic slump that saw casinos 45 miles away in Las Vegas lower their prices to attract customers that might typically spend their cash in Primm.
The company is hoping to make up those lost dollars by targeting Latinos in Southern California and Las Vegas.
Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority, have become a majority in some parts of Southern California, which is Las Vegas' largest feeder market. They also represent young, potential customers, with a median age of 27 versus 37 for the nation as a whole, according to recent Census estimates.
Las Vegas casinos have long wooed Asians because of their perceived higher propensity to gamble. Many Vegas dealers are Asian, and those casinos celebrate the Chinese New Year.
But Hispanic marketing efforts are largely confined to occasional "Latin night" events or musical acts. Plans for new casinos catering to Spanish speakers have stalled, but Primm's largest casino, Buffalo Bill's, is leading the charge in Nevada.
Spanish-speaking players sing and laugh as they throw cards; a line of people two or three deep wait for chairs to open.
On one weekend, as customers waited to sit at the bilingual blackjack tables, Mexican music star Ramon Ayala performed in the concert hall. The Oct. 16 performance drew 10,000 people.
"It was like New Year's Eve, only busier," said Stuart Richey, marketing vice president for Primm Valley Resorts. "We realized there was pent-up demand for this kind of experience."
It recently launched a concert series featuring Mexican performers like Los Tigres del Norte and Jenni Rivera. It also hosts boxing events with fighters popular among California Hispanics and has greeted customers at the door in Spanish.
"This is a very, very big deal for my community," said Sandra Rascon of Los Angeles, who started a company that runs buses from East Los Angeles to Primm. Her $100 package includes a room for two, two meals and a show ticket.
Rascon can easily fill six tour buses on a slow weekend for that price, and more on a Latin concert night.
Hispanics tend to travel in large groups that can translate to big dollars for casinos, said Jim Medick, president of Precision Opinion, a Las Vegas-based market research firm that has reviewed efforts by California casinos to attract Spanish speakers with entertainment, menu items and bilingual staff.
"They tend to be very loyal to the casinos where they feel comfortable," Medick said of those casino patrons. "And they're undemanding customers who are happy just drinking beer and playing slots."
Spanish-languages dealers are also a big draw in an industry that discourages table games players from speaking languages other than English.
"One older lady from Mexico said she knew how to play but wasn't comfortable speaking English in public, so she didn't play," Macedo said, shaking her head. "We should have had this a long time ago."