It seems hard to believe, but I’ve now been out of the casino industry almost six years. Being an old person, I still visit casinos on a regular basis (more on that age demographic thing later). I keep in touch with a number of my former colleagues and suppliers and get an occasional industry newsletter in my inbox from time to time. A recent one had a link to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that I thought was super interesting: The Plaza downtown was opening an area of their slot floor dedicated to a YouTuber named Brian Christopher.
As a nerd, I’m normally pretty open to new gaming trends, but I never fully understood the desire to watch other people play video games on Twitch (and other services). To see that a major casino in Vegas was partnering with someone who records himself playing slot machines was surprising to me, given what I know about casino marketing and security. I started following the BC Slots channel on YouTube about a month ago and I have to admit I now understand the appeal.
So what’s this all about?
While there are probably hundreds of slot machine YouTubers out there now, what Brian Christopher has accomplished so far is impressive. The 40-year-old is originally from Toronto, moved to Los Angeles and now lives in Palm Springs (more on his backstory here). His branding appears to have changed over time – he owns BrianGambles.com and casinoswag.com, for example – and joined YouTube way back in 2006 (he went full-time with BC Slots in 2016).
As of March 2021, his videos have more than 222 million views, with 358,000 subscribers to his channel. His fans are called “Rudies” and he gets financial support from them via Patreon, where people can pay anywhere from $5 to $1200 a month, and from contributions during live chats. Other financial aspects of his business, including sponsorships and appearance fees, are not disclosed. His YouTube account was suspended briefly in 2018 (along with many other gaming channels), as documented in this story from The Atlantic.
Christopher has an appealing video presence (he was an actor before YouTube), with many catchphrases popular among the Rudies. Many of these end up on merchandise that he sells online. In addition to the partnership with The Plaza, he has hosted promotions with many regional casinos and at least one slot manufacturer (Aristocrat). He’s mentioned on recent videos that he attended the G2E conference, an industry trade show not open to the general public.
BC Slots has a small staff in Palm Springs and outsources aspects of the operation (video editing and social media management were specifically mentioned in an interview). Videos are posted daily to the YouTube channel, he does periodic live streams on YouTube and Facebook and has regular content on Instagram and Twitter as well. Assistant Britt appears in most videos, while his husband Marco makes less frequent appearances. Other routines include handing out free “lucky wristbands” to fans and hosting group pulls, where participants normally pay $200-$500 for a set amount of spins (usually on a high-limit machine).
So what is my take on all of this from the perspective of a former casino operator? My initial reaction was “there is no way security would allow this to happen” in Minnesota. Casino security guards are notorious for yelling at people who take pictures on their slot floors (let alone video). On one of his old blog posts, Christopher lists casinos he has visited (including several in Las Vegas that he said were rude and that he would never return to <cough>Caesar’s Palace<cough>). My guess is that those visits involved security getting involved before marketing knew what was going on.
Getting back to the age demographic thing, the entire time I worked in the casino industry, leaders and pundits were afraid of the aging demographic. All the best players were getting older and dying off and there was this constant fear of trying to appeal to younger generations. I always felt this was a little misplaced, because 1) your older players still have a lot of money and 2) younger people will get older and want to eventually do some of these same things. The success of BC Slots (and other gaming YouTubers) show that younger players can get interested in these “traditional” games just like their parents (and grandparents). What will be interesting to see is if the casinos decide to start producing this content themselves. The videos are a great way to train players on new games and generate excitement that can drive future visits.
I love the production value of the videos that Christopher produces. He doesn’t edit out the losses and only show bonuses and jackpots (although I think he does project a luckier-than-average overall image). I also applaud him using his platform to promote causes like Smoke Free Casinos, an effort I’ve long supported (and which may finally get some traction post-pandemic). The partnership with The Plaza is very clever – the section has his favorite games, you can watch videos of him winning jackpots on those games and you can earn your own lucky wristband with 100 points of play in that area. Another recent promotion gave $100 in free play to the first 300 people that mentioned his name in Palm Springs (all were gone the first day). It’s also great that he has a link to NCPG in every video.
So what’s not to like? Security directors will surely see many more copycats try to film without permission. In general, I’d like to see those policies change anyways – from a marketing standpoint, it’s important that guests can share images and videos of them having fun. It’s good for the guest and good for the casinos. I think we are mostly beyond the days of people not wanting to be pictured at a casino (which is not to say guest privacy isn’t important). There are also copyright issues with filming in a casino for profit – some of his videos have to be edited to conceal logos from clothes or mute a song playing in the background. Seems like most of the slot manufacturers are good with their intellectual property being shared and promoted (although I wonder if that will change if some games start to get bad publicity).
The other issue I have with BC Slots is bet size and disclosure. Personally, I’ve always been a minimum bet slot player who likes to maximize time on machine (it is, after all, entertainment). It rubs me the wrong way that BC highlights max betting in all his videos and tends to make light of those that don’t follow suit. While casinos love max bet players, the majority of people can’t afford it and shouldn’t gamble that way. Granted, videos with $25 spins are much more exciting to watch than those with 40-cent spins, but I think it’s unfair if there is no disclosure that some (or all) of that play is coming from the house. From his FAQ page:
How much money do you gamble with & where do you get it from?
Well money is a delicate subject as it’s very personal. I will say however that I am very smart with money. I strictly use an entertainment budget to play with and understand how slot machines work (more on that below). Also a lot of my money gets recycled from previous trips and the key is knowing when to CASH OUT. And just like I don’t ask or know how much my sister and brother make at their jobs, I’m not going to get into finances with complete strangers either 😉
It’s a whole lot easier to do ten pulls on a $100 slot machine if that $1000 was given to you by the casino, no?
That said, I do enjoy watching these videos and will likely continue to do so. Time will tell if it changes the way I play in real life or not. I did try a few new games on my last casino trip based on things I had seen in the videos (although definitely not at those same denomination and bet levels). I think it would also be really interesting if someone compiled statistics/analytics on his videos (index of games played, amounts won/lost, bonuses hit).
In my opinion, there is an amazing lack of information on slot machines online that makes it hard for people to learn about what games they would like (volatility, best odds, payouts, rules). That is probably the biggest benefit to casinos from YouTubers like this – people can see how the games are played before they risk their own money. Hmm…maybe there is a new side hustle in my future…