The Walt Disney Company is one of the most successful media conglomerate companies in the world. Just about everyone has heard of the Disney theme parks stationed in Florida, California, and abroad. Just about everyone has seen classic Disney films like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Not everyone knows about Disney's relationship with the gambling industry, however, and it is a noteworthy one.
Disney to Phase Out Star Wars and Marvel Slot Machines
Over the years, Disney has acquired the rights to several major entertainment companies and their licensed characters. In 2009, Disney bought the Marvel Entertainment company, creator of the famed Marvel comic books and a slew of popular superhero characters. In 2012, it purchased all rights to LucasFilm, the parent company that created the Star Wars brand. Disney announced its plans to phase out all Star Wars and Marvel-themed casino slot machines in the United States last fall. The multimillion dollar company has the power to do this because it now owns all rights to these brands.
According to a Disney spokeswoman, the character-themed slot phase-out is not a new decision. As part of Marvel's “integration” with Disney, she said the decision was made several years ago to let the machines gradually fade out through attrition. Only a few Marvel license agreements remain at this point, and they are set to expire within the next several years. Star Wars-themed slots will also trickle away, but it will take a few more years for that process to complete.
Many people aren't aware that Disney owns the rights to the Marvel and Star Wars brands. Disney wields a certain amount of power over casinos, both on land and online, because of these acquisitions. Instead of promoting Star Wars and Marvel characters via slot machines, the company prefers to use their likenesses in movies that serve to perpetuate the Disney brand. As the owner of LucasFilm, Disney has another trilogy of Star Wars films in the works. As the owner of Marvel, the company debuted a 30-second trailer for the upcoming film Captain America: The Winter Soldier during the Super Bowl this month. Fans can expect to see Disney continue to advance their brands through avenues other than the gaming industry.
Disney's Anti-Casino Stance
Disney has made its opinion of the gambling industry known in Florida: It does not support the addition of more resort casinos to that area. Not only does Disney plan to phase out Marvel and Star Wars-themed slot machines, it also hopes to prevent the development of new casino resorts in the state. As it stands today, Orlando's Walt Disney World is the top tourist attraction on the globe. Over 50 million people visit the entertainment resort every year and partake of theme parks like Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. From a business standpoint, it makes sense that Disney would not want another tourist draw infringing on its potential customer base in the Orlando area.
Disney denies that self-interest is its main motivation for opposing new casinos. Andrea Finger, a spokeswoman for the company, said the corporation opposes casino expansion for “many reasons.” One of the primary reasons is the fact that Florida is a “family friendly” vacation spot; adding more casinos to the landscape would tarnish that. Finger lauded Florida's efforts in “research, innovation, and entrepreneurship” and indicated that adding more casino resorts would create an “inconsistent” atmosphere in the state.
Finger made no statement suggesting that Disney is protecting its own interests by objecting to more casinos. This inference has been made, however, by critics based on the connection between Disney and its Marvel and Star Wars slot machines that recently came to light. Critics also cite the fact that increased Florida casinos might steal valuable convention contracts from the Mickey Mouse company. At this point, Disney hosts approximately 700,000 square feet of convention space in its Florida resorts.
Disney Gambling Connection “Outed” by Reporters
Last October, Disney's ownership of Marvel and LucasFilm slot machines was brought to the public's attention by New York Times reporters Lizette Alvarez and Michael Snyder. Critics immediately began shouting hypocrisy at the fact that Disney, a vocal gambling opponent, owns and profits from character-themed casino slot machines. The Times reporters asked Disney whether its ownership of the slots “undercut” its casino gambling stance. A spokeswoman responded that the company's affiliation with the casinos was only temporary, and that it would take a few years for current slot machine contracts to expire.
“Hypocrisy is in the eye of the beholder,” law professor Robert Jarvis said when asked his opinion on the matter. Jarvis indicated that an honest company would simply admit to following the standard rules of “Business 101:” Companies that succeed in the business world tend to look out for themselves and their own interests first.
A Blow to the Gaming Industry
When Marvel and Star Wars-themed slots do eventually disappear from casinos, their absence will be a blow to the gaming industry. Casino patrons are drawn to the colorful games touting Spider Man, Darth Vader, and other exciting Hollywood characters. Until the machines are completely phased out, the characters will continue to entertain casino patrons both online and on land.
The online gaming industry will definitely be affected by Disney's prohibition. The Spider Man Slot game, for example, is an enticing game for online gamblers that was introduced in 2012. Other Marvel-themed online slots include Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, and Wolverine Slots. The eventual loss of these games will leave a gaping hole in customers' palette of gaming choices.
Disney vs. the Associated Industries of Florida
Last month, a group called the Associated Industries of Florida launched a new pro-casino campaign. This group is lobbying for more casinos in the area as a means of promoting jobs and stimulating the local economy. Analysts expect the battle between Disney and pro-casino lobbyists to become more heated as politicians compete for voter support in the upcoming election.